Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Putin has Finally Chosen ‘Russia is the Victim of Enemies’ as Core of His Ideology, Travin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 6—2022 marked not only the launch of Vladimir Putin’s expanded invasion of Ukraine but also the selection of the core principle of his ideology, Dmitry Travin says. Before then, it appeared that the central idea would be that “Russia is a land of great opportunities,” but now the idea that “Russia is the victim of countless enemies” has won out.

            When things were going relatively well in the first decade of Putin’s rule, the former made more sense and no one was talking about the second, the commentator continues. But when things turned sour, the second quickly overwhelmed the first in the eyes of the Kremlin (

            Nonetheless, until last yar, the first seemed to have some support and had not been finally written off; but the problems that have arisen in the course of the war in Ukraine make it critically important that the regime talk far more about how threatening the enemies of Russia are rather than how helpful are the decreasing number of its friends.

            For the foreseeable future, Travin continues, “the concept of ‘Russia as the victim of countless enemies’ will work relatively effectively” precisely because it is directed not at the elites who will fall in line without believing it but at the mass population who don’t travel or even have passports and so are quite prepared to accept the new ideological precept.

By Saying Russia Must Not be Defeated Lest it Use Nuclear Weapons, Yavlinsky is ‘an Accomplice of the New Hitler,’ Skobov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 7 – In a new article (, Grigory Yavlinsky argeus that “Putin’s Russia cannot be defeated” lest Moscow decide to use nuclear weapons, thus repeating a threat the Kremlin has already made and making himself into “an accomplice of the new Hitler,” Aleksandr Skobov says.

            By invoking the supreme value of human life to justify giving Putin everything he wants, Yavlinsky may only be striving to save his own skin and that of others, a perhaps understandable position. But in fact, he is devaluing human life as Putin has already done by his aggression, the Russian commentator says (

            “There are always people prepared to submit to any rapist because own skin is dear to them than is human dignity,” Skobov says. But at the same time, “there are always others who are ready to die rather than submit. The two groups have always disliked each other” because the victory of one depends on the defeat of the other.

            What also is important and must be remembered, the Russian commentator says, is that this dispute is not something that can be decided by some kind of vote. Rather, it is decided in every case “solely by will, the will of some not to submit to the rapist no matter what and the will of others to save their own skins no matter what.”

            Yavlinsky likes to talk about how much the world has changed, but the changes he clearly hopes for are not the changes that are taking place. He hopes for a world in which it doesn’t matter who controls territory, but in fact, by making his argument, Yavlinsky is helping to build a world in which “nothing matters except saving your own skin.”

               Putin has shown the world that for him and those who support him, human life is not worth anything. But what matters is this, Skobov says, even though Yavlinsky doesn’t understand. “It will be impossible to restore the value of human life in the world without destroying those have devalued it.”
               And because that is true, the commentator concludes, everyone needs to recognize that Yavlinsky and others like him who favor giving in to Putin’s demands because of the risk Putin will use nuclear weapons are “accomplices of the new Hitler, people who in principle are no different than the accomplices of the old Hitler” in the past.

Crime in Post-Soviet Russia a Direct Continuation of Crime in Soviet Times, Shapovalova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 6 – Many Russians are nostalgic for Soviet times because they mistakenly believe that there was little or no crime in their country before 1991 and that the transitions arising from perestroika and the creation of a market economy are to blame for its appearance, Marina Shapovalova says.

            But that view is doubly mistaken, the Moscow commentator says. On the one hand, since all private economic activity was illegal in Soviet times, there was a great deal of crime. And on the other, the means those involved in much of this activity then to enforce their will presaged what happened after 1991 (

            That is, because all private economic activity was illegal, those engaged in seeking to extract money from it used extra-legal and often violent means to do so,exactly what they and their successors did after the end of the Soviet system. The big difference is that the Soviet media seldom covered these crimes, while the Russian media played them up.

            But there was one change that does matter and explains why Russians talk so much about crime in “the wild 90s.” Then crime directly touched many small operators, but subsequently, it focused on bigger fish, leaving the more numerous smaller ones to their own devices and contributing to the idea that the Putin regime had reduced crime.

            In fact, it only shifted crime to “more respectable” levels and also like the Soviet rulers increasingly suppressed coverage of what is going on except when it can play a role in solving political struggles, again just as was often the case in Soviet times – and yet another form of the continuity of crime from Soviet times to Russian ones.


Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Civil War in Russia Unlikely Unless West and Russian Emigration Back Ethnic Activists, Gallyamov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 6 – The conflict between the authorities and society in Russia bears an “exclusively political” character, Abbas Gallyamov says; and consequently, any future conflicts are likely to be far less intense and violent than in places where political conflicts are intermixed with broader socio-economic disputes.

            And that in turn means, the Moscow commentator and former Putin speechwriter says, that any conflicts in Russia in some time of troubles are more likely to resemble the American revolution than the French and be relatively non-violent because it won’t be about changing basic socio-economic arrangements (

            But there is one factor that could grow into something that could change all that – the threat that Russia could fall apart, an idea being pushed today by “part of Russian opposition  figures, certain Ukrainian politicians and a small fraction of radical Euro deputies, Gallyamov continues.

            If such people provide significant funds to groups like the Forum of the Free Peoples of Russia and promote secession, he suggests, “they will be able to attract a considerable number of potential separatists into their ranks, especially from among the representatives of numerically smaller nations.”

            “With their help,” he continues, the crisis could be exacerbated by “a surge of ethno-nationalism,” leading to an upsurge in confrontation and adding a social dimension to what would otherwise remain a less explosive political conflict.

            Thus, for example, “if a representative of the Nogai people begins to seriously implement plans to separate the Astrakhan region from Russia,” Gallyamov says, the Russian population there won’t take things lying down and their will be violence. “But if the opposition and the West don’t do stupid things … then there won’t be any civil war.”

            To be sure, there could be some conflicts in the North Caucasus arising from local problems, but they will remain local conflicts rather than become a national conflagration. “In short,” Gallyamov concludes, what is coming shouldn’t frighten anyone as the basis conflict is likely to remain political rather than grow over into socio-economic spheres.

            Gallyamov’s article is first and foremost an effort to tell the West not to get involved in supporting ethnic and regional movements within Russia, but even more than that, it is a classic manifestation of the notion widespread in Russian elites that the peoples of Russia are incapable of acting on their own.

            But to paraphrase Lenin, “there are such people” and to think they can’t or won’t act on their own regardless of what the Ukrainians or the West do is to make the most profound of mistakes.   

‘Tatarstan's Fight for "Rais" rather than "Head" Part of Fight for Decentralization,’ Kalachev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 6 – Moscow has succeeded in forcing Tatarstan to give up the title of president for its leader, but it has not been successful in getting the Middle Volga republic to call its leader a “head” as most other federal subjects have been forced to do. Instead, Tatar officials and the Tatar population remain committed to using the Arabic term “rais” instead.

            The websites and documents of the head of Tatarstan and his administration have all been changed indicating that they are headed by a “rais” rather than a president; and ethnic minorities have been encouraged to use their native language equivalents of the Tatar “rais” when speaking about him.

            According to Russian political scientist Konstantin Kalachev, this reflects the continuing struggle of Tatarstan against being reduced to the status of an ordinary oblast or kray and is one that Tatarstan has both Russian law and even Russian practice under Vladimir Putin on its side (

            On the one hand, the law that required Tatarstan to change the title of its top official specifies only that he or she can’t be called “president.” Other terms are acceptable, including quite clearly “rais,” all the more so since as recently as 2016, Putin himself said that Tatars had the right to make a choice on this point.

            And on the other hand, both Moscow and St. Petersburg call the top officials in their cities mayors even though they are federal subjects. As a Tatar commentator pointed out, they are clearly special federal subjects just as Tatarstan is a special federal subject as well. From his perspective, the Tatars came out of the recent struggle better than some expected.

            At present, few expect Moscow will launch a campaign against the title “rais” at least in the near future, although at some point that is not to be excluded because Moscow officials and Moscow outlets are already referring to the now former “president” of Tatarstan as “head,” even though almost no one in that republic is doing so.

Tengrism Experiencing a Radical Revival among Kazakhs Disappointed in Islam, Fatyanova Says

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 5 –Tengrianism is experiencing a radical revival among Russian-speaking urban elites in Kazakhstan and may now have as many as a million followers with some of them even suggesting that that ancient faith of the nomads become a state religion there, Ulyana Fatyanova says.

            Tengrism, the animist faith of nomadic peoples within the Turkic world, has long attracted attention in part because its god does not set rules but rather talks about what will happen to an individual or his descendants if he violates the universal order. (For background on this faith in Kazakhstan, see Marlene Laruelle, “Religious Revival, Nationalism and ‘the Invention of Tradition,” Central Asian Survey 26:2 (2007: 203-216.)

            But with the coming of Islam, the passing of nomadic society,  and the urbanization of the population, Tengrism appeared to many to be primarily of historical interest. But Ulyana Fatyanova, a Kazakh journalist, argues that instead of fading away, Tengrism is experiencing a revival, albeit among unexpected groups (

            Many urban Kazakhs, she says, turn to Tengrism because it is a national religion but not Islam, a faith that has been discredited in the eyes of many in that Central Asian country because of the behavior of radicals and fundamentalists. By accepting Tengrism, they can assert their Kazakh identity without being Muslim.

            Most of those who are coming to Tengrism are urban, Russian-speaking elites, a sharp contrast with the rural, Kazakh-speaking, rural residents who had represented the only surviving Tengrism until very recently. It is thus, Fatyanova says, “the religion of the intelligentsia” rather than the faith of the people.

            The exact number of Tengrians in Kazakhstan today is unknown because the government does not keep reliable statistics and because many Tengrians are reluctant to proclaim their faith lest Muslims target them for reeducation. But scholarly estimates range from 400,000 to more than a million.

War in Ukraine Hitting Russia’s Numerically Smallest Nations Especially Hard, Berezhkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 4 – Putin’s war in Ukraine is harming the numerically smallest nations of the Russian Federation especially hard in five serious ways, according to Dmitry Berezhkov, the editor of the Russia of the Indigenous Peoples portal. And those hits have been compounded by the falsification of census data about their numbers and languages.

            First of all, he says, mobilization has fallen disproportionately on them, not because they have been targeted but because they have less information and fewer resources to resist; and deaths in combat even if small in absolute numbers are often enormous for the peoples involved (

            If a nation of a million loses 100 men in combat, that is one thing, Berzhkov points out; but if a nation numbering a hundred or less loses even two, that can cast an enormous shadow on the demographic survival of that community, something that is happening all too often among the 47 nations of the Russian Federation who have fewer than 50,000 people each.

            Moreover, the deaths are of men who in traditional societies like those of the numerically small peoples of the North and Far East are the portions of the community that do the most to keep traditional forms of economic activity alive, forms that are the basis for the limited subsidies these nations receive.

            Second, the war has had a serious negative economic impact on peoples who live far from major cities. As the economy has worsened, businesses have cut back deliveries to smaller markets and that means that the numerically small peoples now have fewer supplies than they did only a year ago.

            Third, the exit of foreign firms has hit these peoples hard as well. When Western firms depart, standards at the remaining Russian ones invariably fall; and the employees at these firms suffer as well. Foruth, the Russian government has cut government subsidies to these peoples and thus isn’t able to compensate for the economic decline in their areas.

And fifth, Berezhkov says, the war has cut Russia’s northern peoples off from the chance to tell their stories in international forums and sometimes get help. Earlier, representatives of these peoples could tell their stories in Geneva or New York, but now they can’t; and as a result, Moscow “no longer devotes attention to international demands, letters and appeals.”

            Compounding all these problems, he continues, was the falsification of the latest Russian census. Everyone knows that its figures for national identity aren’t reliable given how many people were listed as not having a nationality. But in the case of the numerically small peoples, this falsification  has taken two forms.

            In some cases, officials boosted the number of people in some nationalities far beyond the level of plausibility lest anyone say these nations are on the edge of dying out. But in others, they reduced the number to below 50,000 so Moscow could say the 47 numerically smaller nations were doing well rather than admitting many in that category should be moved out of it.

Online Referendum Seeks to Measure Support for Possible Independence of Five Regions in Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 4 – Sometimes the fact that a question is asked is more important than any answers that are forthcoming, with the query itself sparking greater interest in the question and even possible action in support of realizing the answers to a question some may not earlier have asked themselves.

            That seems to be the case with a new online referendum concerning the possible independence of five regions within the current borders of the Russian Federation – Ingriya (the area around St. Petersburg), Koenigsberg (Kaliningrad), Kuban, Siberia and the Urals (

            The organizers of this effort do not provide much information about themselves although they do root their effort in the UN declaration on the rights of peoples to self-determination and do promise to keep the names and IP locations of those who take part confidential lest those involved be subject to reprisals.

            Despite these assurances, it is likely that even many of those who support such regionalist efforts will not take part; but again, the response that matters most is not how many do but how many more conclude that regionalist challenges to the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation are not only possible but growing. 

Tatars and Bashkirs Must Recover Orenburg Corridor and Make Independence of Middle Volga a Reality, Gabbasov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 4 – Many in the Middle Volga believe they can never be independent because their republics are entirely surrounded by Russian territory, but “they forget” that there is only a narrow space between them as a whole and Kazakhstan, Bashkir émigré leader Ruslan Gabbasov says.

            Stalin created the Orenburg Oblast in the 1930s precisely to prevent the peoples of Idel-Ural – the Tatars, Bashkirs, Chuvash, Mordvins, Maris, and Udmurts – from becoming union republics and thus being in a position to recover their independence when the USSR fell apart, he continues (

            What Stalin intended as a wall can in fact be viewed as a corridor, known familiarly as the Orenburg corridor or the Kuvandyk corridor in Turkic languages; and it can be recovered for all the Idel-Ural peoples if Bashkirs and Tatars work together, the émigré Bashkir leader continues.

            According to Gabbasov, “this term was introduced” by the author of these lines in 2013, when I argued that “the appearance of a common Bashkir-Kazakh border would divide Moscow from Siberia and create the preconditions for the possible recognition of Bashkortostan and subsequently other republics of Idel-Ural” (

            In fact, the Bashkir writer does me too much honor:. The term has been circulating for some time, although some Russian writers have picked up the arguments I made at that time and ascribed them to me (

            But at the same time and helping to explain Gabbasov’s appeal, there have been five developments during the intervening years that have raised the profile of the Orenburg corridor not only among the Idel-Ural peoples but also internationally both as a problem for Moscow and as a means for Kazakhstan and Ukraine to put pressure on the Russian Federation.

            First of all, the hitherto predominantly ethnic Russian Orenburg Oblast is depopulating, making its population less Russian and the potential transfer of the corridor to Bashkortostan or Kazakhstan less problematic than it would have been earlier (

            Second, new research has shown that Orenburg has a much longer Turkic past than Russian scholars have wanted to admit and that it is linked to Tatarstan far more closely than even most Tatar historians have suggested (

            Third,  Kazakh nationalists have shown interest in recovering the Orenburg corridor for themselves in order to project Turkic influence into the middle of Russia, an interest that the government of Kazakhstan has been sufficiently concerned about to deny ( and

            Fourth, the Ukrainian government has included the Orenburg corridor in its list of non-Russian areas within the Russian Federation that it hopes to draw in as allies against Moscow and its invasion of Ukraine (

            And fifth, Moscow’s talk about amalgamating regions has led some in the Middle Volga to argue that one of the best places for that process to begin would be the Orenburg corridor, yet another case where Russian policies have unintended consequences when they are exploited by others (

            How far this will go, of course, remains to be seen; and what Moscow will do in Orenburg to try to prevent it also is unclear. But one thing is certain: the Orenburg or Kuvandyk corridor is a real danger to the survival of the Russian Federation in its current borders ( and

            That some in Moscow think so is highlighted by the fact that the Russian version of Wikipedia now has a page devoted to it (Кувандыкский_коридор; cf.Кувандыкский_коридор).  

Monday, February 6, 2023

Moscow Military Court Sends Muslim Publisher to Prison for 17 Years on Charges of Financing Terrorism

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 3 – A Moscow military court has sentenced Aslambek Ezhayev, who has headed the Umma publishing house for more than 20 years, to 17 years in prison after finding him guilty of sending 35 million rubles (500,000 US dollars) to groups the Russian government says are extremists and terrorists.

            Ezhayev, who has been behind bars since April 2021, denies the charges, saying that all the money transfers the authorities point to were part of his publishing work that has involved reprinting many classic Islamic titles which have been used not only by Muslim faithful but by students of Islam ( and

            Born 60 years ago in what was then the Chechen-Ingush ASSR, Ezhayev denied the charges in his final address to the court. He also pointed out that his grandfather had been arrested and shot as an enemy of the people in 1942, that his sons had sought his rehabilitation later, and that now his own five sons will face the same task at some point in the future.