Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Russia Imposes New History Textbooks on Crimean Schools

By Paul Goble

History teachers, the deputy education minister in Russian-occupied Crimea says, are going to have to make “a 180-degree turn” in their work, eliminating Ukrainian histories and replacing them with Russia-centered texts. While “Ohm’s law remains Ohm’s law” even in Crimea, Vladimir Buyakevich said, every historical event has a distinctive national coloration, reflecting the ideology of the state in which the schools are located (, September 9).

The change-over to Russian history textbooks this year promises to be so difficult and dramatic that some of the teachers on the Ukrainian peninsula have decided to form an Association of History Teachers in order to discuss best practices and consider how to make the transition. Its leaders have indicated that they will devote particular attention to older students who have been taught in one, Ukrainian direction, but now must be instructed in another, Russian one.

This shift represents an attempt to de-Ukrainianize the peninsula and also to play down the role of other ethnic groups as well. As such, it is likely to provoke complaints that it falls under the United Nations definition of genocide, which holds that any efforts to wipe out a people’s historical memory—and not just physical destruction—is genocidal.

And such complaints are even more likely because the Russian occupying authorities are restricting the number of course hours for the Ukrainian language and even more for Crimean Tatar, with pressure being applied on parents to not ask for such courses. Meanwhile, their responses are being used as justification for cutting the amount of class time for these two national languages to one-fifth or even one-sixth of the amount devoted to Russian and making the study of Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar optional rather than required (, September 11).

But even if these Russian moves do not constitute acts of genocide, they are certain to infuriate both ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars living on the occupied Ukrainian peninsula as well as members of both nations living elsewhere in Ukraine. They are also likely to lead many non-Russians in the Russian Federation to conclude, as some already have, that what Moscow is doing in Crimea is what it intends to do in Russia as a whole. And that, in turn, means that what looks like a simple bureaucratic move in Crimea could become a political problem not only there but across Russia, where non-Russian languages have been under pressure for decades and where most of the smaller languages are at risk of dying out, according to UN reports.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Putin’s Journey Along the Sino-Russian Border

By Gregory Shtraks

Last week (September 2), Vladimir Putin’s meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli for the opening of the China-Russia gas pipeline and the Russian president’s subsequent sojourn to Mongolia, his first state visit to Ulaanbaatar since 2004, made headlines throughout the world (Renmin Ribao, September 2).  Putin’s tour of the southeastern Russian provinces of Amur, Altai Republic, Altai Krai and the Tuva Republic, on the other hand, were hardly noticed by the international media. Still, both his international and domestic trips deserve closer analysis.

The Russian leader’s visit to Mongolia resulted in the signing of several economic and political agreements, best viewed as part of an ongoing tectonic trade shift in the wake of the Ukrainian war. Ironically, the most consequential sanctions resulting from the war so far have not been those placed on Russia, but rather the food produce restrictions placed by Russia on the United States, the European Union, Australia, Canada and Norway. Sellers from countries as disparate as Brazil, Turkey, Israel, India and Argentina have rushed in to fill the vacuum in Russian supermarkets. It appears that Mongolia will also profit from this phenomenon as Russia is set to lift decades-old restrictions on Mongolian livestock (RT, September 3). Nonetheless, its livestock and metallurgy notwithstanding, Mongolia’s primary importance to Russia is as a conduit to China. In fact, in his remarks to journalists in Ulaanbaatar, Putin emphasized the need to improve Mongolian infrastructure so as to make it a better transit corridor between Russia and China (this was also the interview in which Putin introduced his seven conditions for ending the Russo-Ukraine war) (, September 3).

China was clearly also the main catalyst for Putin’s trip to Blagoveshensk (Amur Oblast), a border town on the Amur River that is mirrored by Heihe—a Chinese city on the opposite bank of the Amur (, September 1).  Coming on the heels of Putin’s visit to Yakutsk (Sakha Republic in Russia’s Far East)—where he met with Chinese Vice Premier Zhang—it is not difficult to discern that Putin’s voyage to the Sino-Russian border had less to do with the construction of the Chita-Khabarovsk super highway (the ostensible reason provided) and more with booming Sino-Russian border trade. In addition to the recent oil and gas deals, China has lost no time in capitalizing on Russia’s demand for more fruits and vegetables. China’s leading fruit seller, Baoring, has set up a giant wholesale market and warehouse in Dongning, just outside of Vladivostok (RT, August 12;, August 12). Putin has made the development of the Russian Far East a top priority and his time in Blagoveshensk included an all-day conference on the socio-economic development of Russia’s far eastern provinces. The Russian head of state has appointed not one, but two, top-level ministers charged with developing the region’s economy. At the conference, Yuri Trutnev, the presidential envoy for the Far East, and Alexander Galushka, the minister for Far Eastern development, took turns trying to impress President Putin with their preferred projects, almost all of which are dependent on increased Chinese investments (, September 1).

After two days in Blagoveshensk, on September 4, Putin visited the Altai Republic and Altai Krai, two remote provinces that the Russian president had never been to prior to this trip, but which happen to share a short border with China (on the western side of Mongolia) (, September 5). This border connects Russia’s western Siberian oilfields with the Chinese western province of Xinjiang. During the ten-year negotiations that culminated with the signing of the Sino-Russian gas deal last May (see EDM, May 22), Moscow strongly lobbied for the gas pipeline to go through this section of the border, before finally capitulating and agreeing to have the pipeline start in Yakutsk and pass through the eastern section of the border instead. Nonetheless, the construction of a highway that would connect Russia and China in this remote locale is very much in Russia’s interests and undoubtedly played a role in Putin’s visit.  

Last, but certainly not least, on September 6, Putin visited the Tuva Republic to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the unification of Tuva and Russia (, September 6). Observers of eastern Ukraine would do well to pay close attention, as there is no better example of forced “Anschluss” than Russia’s annexation of Tuva—a province whose population is almost entirely composed of ethnic Mongolians. Furthermore, it is an unlikely coincidence that a presidential trip that began with an expression of Sino-Russian friendship in Yakutsk, and continued with a state visit to Mongolia, ended with a trip to Tuva. After all, the Tuva Republic was the last part of the Qing Empire to be annexed by Russia. Tuva was taken under “Russian protection” in 1914 in the aftermath of Outer Mongolia’s declaration of independence. It then remained a mostly autonomous region until 1944 when the Soviet annexed Tuva in “gratitude” for the sacrifices of Tuvan “volunteers” during World War II.

The deterioration of Russia’s relationship with the West has pushed Moscow closer to Beijing. The Sino-Russian relationship is arguably closer than it has been since the 1950s and may grow closer still. Beneath the affable surface, however, the two powers continue to play geopolitical games on their Central Asian peripheries as they compete for influence in countries such as Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. Putin’s trip to Siberia in the midst of the Ukrainian war shows just how crucial China is becoming to Russia. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

No Crimea or Novorossiya Likely In Kazakhstan

By Paul Goble

More ethnic Russians have fled Kazakhstan to go to the Russian Federation than their counterparts in any other former Soviet republic, and many still there are unhappy with Astana’s language policies. And yet, the ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan today—who number 3.6 million and form a fifth of the population, now down from a majority only a generation ago—have little interest in backing the equivalent of a Crimea or Novorossiya separatist project in their country.

Such enterprises certainly do not require majorities to succeed. However, in Ukraine they have worked best where local ethnic Russians backed the inclusion of their home territories into the Russian Federation (such as in Crimea) and at least required some organized popular discontent along ethnic lines (as in “Novorossiya”). Consequently, both Russian and Kazakhstani observers say, there is little chance that Moscow will make a move in that direction inside the largest Central Asian republic. And this is despite the recent suggestions by extreme Russian nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky that Moscow will turn its attention to Kazakhstan after it subdues Ukraine and notwithstanding recent Russian military maneuvers along the Kazakhstani border (, August 22).

According to experts, there are three reasons for this: First, there is little ethnic tension in Kazakhstan because the ethnic Russians and ethnic Kazakhs occupy different socio-economic niches and do not compete as they do in Ukraine. Overwhelmingly, those ethnic Russians who left earlier did so because of the economy rather than because of ethnic hostility. Second, a failed attempt in the late 1990s by some Russians to secede and either form a separate state or join the Russian Federation was thoroughly crushed by the Kazakhstani authorities, and its leaders were fully discredited. Hence, there is almost no interest in the idea now. And third, most ethnic Russians remaining in Kazakhstan are focused on their personal lives rather than on political projects. There are few of the latter, and they involve only a minute portion of the population. Indeed, in the words of one close observer of this scene, “despite all the moral and other discomfort” some of them feel about the current situation, “the majority of the Russian community retains its loyalty to the Kazakhstani state” (, August 22; see EDM, August 13)

Nonetheless, Russia’s moves in Ukraine and the appearance of supporters of imperial projects in the upper echelons of the government in Moscow has prompted Kazakhstan’s government to re-evaluate the situation. Its leadership has concluded, says, that “separatist attitudes, if they exist in the northeastern districts [of Kazakhstan], this is exclusively at the level of conversations and has never acquired any even semi-official forms.” Moreover, the experts say, most ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan believe that the introduction of Russian forces into Kazakhstan would harm them more than the Kazakhs.

But at least some involved in this review say Kazakhstan’s very success in economic development means that Moscow will continue to try to promote instability there even if the prospects for success are not great. That is because, in the words of one of the participants, while successful countries are pleased by the success of others, those which are falling behind are typically angry. Right now, across a wide range of socio-economic criteria, Kazakhstan is more successful than the Russian Federation, and that may make it a target for Moscow, even if the local Russians do not want to be involved.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Azerbaijan Strengthens Its Cooperation With NATO

By Leyla Aslanova

As Azerbaijan begins its fourth Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) cycle with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), tensions are on the rise with its neighbor Armenia over the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Karabakh, occupied by Armenian forces. The latest serious armed confrontations began on July 30, 2014 (see EDM, August 7)—the most serious violence since the ceasefire agreement was reached in May 1994. The increase in violent clashes could spark a new wide-scale conflict in the region. But it also suggests that Russia may be intentionally inciting provocations by ordering Armenia to make trouble in Karabakh to help further President Vladimir Putin’s regional ambitions.

Beginning in June 2014, Russian media, led by Moskovskiy Komsomolets, intentionally disseminated information about Armenia’s possible plans to launch a war against Azerbaijan and attack Nakhchivan (Moskovskiy Komsomolets, June 11). While this story did not receive much attention at the time, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and ongoing involvement in the separatist fighting in eastern Ukraine brought renewed concern, highlighting the dangers inherent in the Karabakh conflict. Prominent experts have since written on the importance of finding a resolution to the Karabakh conflict and have specifically pointed to the similarities between the occupations of both Crimea and Karabakh (see, for example, Thomas de Waal, “Nagorno-Karabakh: Crimea’s doppelganger,” Open Democracy, July 13). It is becoming ever more apparent that Moscow is pushing Yerevan to reignite the Karabakh conflict as a means to contain Baku’s cautious approach of the West and to block the Euro-Atlantic community’s attempts to boost their influence in the South Caucasus—which Russia considers to be within its sphere of influence.

In May 2014, United States Senator Bob Corker (R­-TN) proposed the Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014,” which not only includes stricter sanctions against Russia but also offers major non-NATO ally status for Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. Furthermore, the bill increases armed forces cooperation between the US and Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova and Azerbaijan (see EDM, August 4). Notably, however, the proposed legislation’s named partnerships exclude Armenia, most likely due to Yerevan’s recent policy reorientation completely away from Europe. Firstly, Armenia is Russia’s long term ally and is committed to its military alliance with Moscow; in particular, Armenia hosts a Russian base with 4,000 soldiers (see EDM, September 11, 2013). Secondly, on March 27, Armenia was among 11 countries that voted against the United Nations General Assembly resolution that declared the Crimean referendum invalid (UN, March 27)

Azerbaijan, on the other hand, has developed closer relations with NATO over the years as a part of the Individual Partnership Action Plan process. The country’s third IPAP cycle is currently being assessed, and the two sides are finalizing the draft of Azerbaijan’s fourth IPAP cycle for the period of 2014–2015 (, August 5). During the conference “NATO Wales Summit: Forecasts and Perspectives,” held in Baku on August 5, the British ambassador to Azerbaijan, Irfan Siddiq, raised specific areas of cooperation between the North Atlantic Alliance and Azerbaijan that need to be emphasized in the new IPAP. These included the development of a dynamic action plan for preparedness and response to new types of threats as well as increasing the defense capability of NATO member countries and the Alliance’s readiness to respond to existing threats (, August 5).

On August 7–8, Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov held meetings at NATO Headquarters in Brussels concerning the negotiations over the new IPAP document (, August 5). With the renewed fourth IPAP cycle, NATO is more likely to try to boost its cooperation with Azerbaijan in the Caspian Sea. And NATO’s upcoming Wales summit in September 2014 also suggests prospects for increased cooperation to ensure security and stability in the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea regions. Moscow is likely to vehemently oppose any NATO presence in the Caspian, as Russia already pressed the other Caspian littoral states—Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran—not to allow any outside military forces to enter their shared body of water (see EDM, May 5). Nevertheless, in his speech during the August 5 Baku conference on the NATO Wales summit, Romanian ambassador to Azerbaijan Daniel Cristian stressed that European Union countries are ready to support the expansion of relations between Azerbaijan and the Euro-Atlantic institutions (, August 5).

As such initiatives by the North Atlantic Alliance toward Baku grow in frequency, the unintended consequences will be the increase in provocations by Yerevan along the Azerbaijani-Armenian border. Therefore, the renewed skirmishes over Karabakh serve as yet another reason for international powers and institutions to act and to reject Russia’s imperialistic ambitions in the region, which stand in the way of peacebuilding and the establishment of security across the South Caucasus.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Karabakh Fighting Intensifies Lezgin Separatism in Azerbaijan

By Paul Goble

New violence between Baku and Yerevan over the occupied territories (see EDM, August 7) has sparked a new wave of separatism among the Lezgins of Azerbaijan. This ethnic community calculates that the violence gives it a new chance to gain autonomy via Moscow’s efforts to gain additional leverage over Baku without having the situation in Dagestan blow up in its face.

Azerbaijan today is more ethnically homogeneous than at any point in its history, if one excludes the territories occupied by Armenia, but it does have two significant ethnic minorities, the Talysh in the south and the Lezgins in the North.  The former, an Iranian group of about 100,000, has not been a major problem for Baku over the last decade.  But the latter, which  includes as many as 350,000 in northern Azerbaijan and another 400,000 on the other side of the Azerbaijani-Russian border, is something else. As one commentator notes, while the Talysh have to deal with Baku “one on one, behind the back [of the Lezgins] stands Russia” (, August 8).

The Lezgins in Azerbaijan have long complained about Azerbaijani discrimination, and the Lezgins in Dagestan have equally long complained about Baku’s efforts to promote its influence northward.  In both cases, Moscow has used the Lezgins against Baku when it has perceived Azerbaijan to be weak or when Moscow is seeking additional leverage to force Azerbaijan not to attack Russia’s ally Armenia or to follow Moscow’s line on other issues.

In 1993, a group of Lezgins attacked an Azerbaijani border post, and a year later, they organized a terrorist attack in the Baku metro.  Now, as one commentator has noted, “considering the Ukrainian events, the unification of Crimea to Russia, and the recognition of the latter by South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Lezgin nationalists at any moment may ask themselves the question: if the Abkhazians, Ossetians, and Crimeans with the support of Russia and the Karabakh people with that of Armenia could separate, then why cannot the Lezgins do the same by having asked Russia for help?” (, August 8).

Anton Yevstratov, a Russian political scientist and historian, points out that “Lezgins living on the territory of Dagestan are a problem not just for Baku. They are also one for Moscow” because they have sought to gain greater autonomy within Dagestan, the most ethnically diverse non-Russian republic in the Russian Federation.  And when they have not achieved the support they hoped for from Moscow, the Lezgins have not been shy about turning to radical groups elsewhere in the North Caucasus. In fact, in the early 1990s, the Sadval Movement regularly cooperated with Dzhokhar Dudayev’s Chechnya. Thus, the Lezgins can be a two-edged sword (, July 31).

Nonetheless, Moscow seems prepared to use it against Baku now, to remind the Azerbaijan authorities that they could face a two- or even three-front war if they seek to reclaim the occupied territories by force. At the same time, however, the Lezgins might act on their own, which could end by causing as many headaches for Moscow as for Baku.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Building up Igor Strelkov’s Myth: A Call to Arms for Russian Nationalists

By Sofia Yasen

The Russian publishing house Knizhnyy Mir recently released a book about Igor Girkin (a.k.a. Strelkov), the military leader of the pro-Russia separatist forces in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (, accessed August 4). The title of the book is Igor Strelkov—The Horror of the Banderovite Junta. Defense of Donbas (Igor Strelkov—uzhas banderovskoy khunty. Oborona Donbasa). Even though part of the book is advertised as including direct excerpts from Strelkov’s dairy, which he allegedly kept during the fighting in Slovyansk, the veracity of this text is unclear. Mikhail Polikarpov, who claims to have known Igor Strelkov for a long time, wrote the rest of the book.

Polikarpov provides no clear confirmation that he is, indeed, using Strelkov’s own words. In one place he claims to quote posts by a blogger with the online pseudonym of Kotych, who is said to be an alter ego of Strelkov. In places where Kotych’s cited text appears to deviate from Strelkov’s normal style, Polikarpov emphasizes the possibility that Strelkov’s account may have been hacked. Interestingly, one of the interviews with Strelkov that is found in the book asserts that he visited Kyiv during the Euromaidan street protests against the Viktor Yanukovych government.

Any questions as to whether the author tried to verify the information he presents in his book lose all meaning the deeper the reader progresses in the text. It quickly becomes apparent that Polikarpov’s book is not meant to provide unbiased information but, rather, is clear propaganda. Within the first few pages, it praises the Russian “volunteer” soldiers who, in the early 1990s, fought for the separatist Moldovan region of Transnistria, which the author identifies as the first independent element of “Novorossiya” (“New Russia”— Moscow’s political project to create a pro-Russia separatist region, mainly out of territories carved out of southeastern Ukraine).

Largely unknown prior to the outbreak of war in eastern Ukraine, Strelkov—an avid war reenactor and former Federal Security Service (FSB) operative—obtained real battle experience in Transnistria, Bosnia, Chechnya and Dagestan (see EDM, July 21). Igor Strelkov portrays him as an exemplar for his methods of warfare in the Ukraine, and in one section even elevates Strelkov to that of a modern day Alexander Suvorov, referring to the famous Russian military commander who served under Catherine the Great. On the other hand, the book describes the leaders of the Kyiv government as “pro-Western agents.” Polikarpov also openly disparages Ukraine’s armed forces. In discussing the Ukrainian soldiers, the author exclusively refers to Strelkov’s purported online posts, which are written in a mocking tone and accuse the Ukrainian troops of drunkenness, unprofessionalism and murders of innocent civilians.

The book heavily reflects extreme Russian nationalist views. For one thing, it claims that the Ukrainian language is artificial. Furthermore, the word “Ukrainians” rarely appears in the text at all, which instead utilizes such ethnic slurs as “Ukry,” “Ukropy” or “Khokhly.” One of the concluding sections in the book dwells on the alleged ideological weakness of the people from eastern Ukraine. The author concludes that Russians have an obligation to help eastern Ukrainians return to a normal life in a big Russian family.

Igor Strelkov finishes by presenting interviews with Strelkov and his close associates, who portray him as a brave officer, idealist, monarchist and a new hero of our time, who is believed to be the only person able to bring about a wave of renewal to Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The book also includes demands for Putin to send Russian armed forces into eastern Ukraine to support the pro-Russia rebels, who, according to the author, are desperately waiting for Russian help.

It is worth noting that Igor Strelkov is only one of several new pro-Kremlin and anti-Ukrainian books that were released this year by the publisher Knizhnyy Mir. Among them are such books as, Novorossiya: Risen From the Ashes (, accessed August 4), Crimea Is Forever With Russia ( accessed August 4), Neo-Nazis & Euromaidan: From Democracy to Dictatorship (, accessed August 4), etc. Each book has its own target audience. For example, Neo-Nazis & Euromaidan was translated into English and, according to Voice of Russia, was presented to the public in Belgium one day after President Petro Poroshenko signed Ukraine’s Association Agreement and free trade pact with the European Union (Voice of Russia, June 29).

Polikarpov’s book on Igor Strelkov was initially released in 2,000 copies, suggesting that the author does not expect it to be read by the wider Russian audience. But a large audience was likely not his goal. Rather, the romanticization of the Russian “volunteers” participating in various conflicts across the post-Soviet area, with which Igor Strelkov opens, as well as the descriptions of Strelkov’s struggle to find new volunteers for the ongoing conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas, might conceal a hidden intention.  

The author leaves the reader with no doubts that the new Russian “hero,” Strelkov—a man brave enough to stand up to “American-Ukrainian Fascists”—will find a bigger number of the followers soon. Such a conclusion makes it clear that the main goal of the book is not only to guide the narrative on the Ukraine conflict, but also to become a call to those Russian nationalists and/or veterans, who still have not joined the armed struggle over eastern Ukraine. They are, thus, the main audience for Igor Strelkov, and they are Strelkov’s best hope. Consequently, the book illustrates the critical importance of informational war to the Russian side in the Ukraine conflict.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Denunciations Making a Comeback in Russian-Occupied Crimea

By Paul Goble

One of the most odious features of Soviet times is now making a horrific comeback in Russian-occupied Crimea—“snitching” or denouncing others to the authorities in the hopes of currying favor with the latter or of gaining specific benefits such as the apartment of those against whom the denunciations are directed. As officials clearly intend, Crimean commentator Andrey Kirillov says, this trend is leading to the atomization of society and the spread of fear. Thus, the spread of denunciations is making the population less likely to resist and easier to control (, July 23;, July 24).

According to Kirillov, such denunciations have become “a mass phenomenon” in Crimea after only a few months of Russian occupation. A few people may be snitching because they believe that they have discovered problems and “wish to restore order.”  But most of those in Crimea who are taking this step appear to be driven by a desire to curry favor with the authorities and win benefits for themselves at the expense of those they denounce.

He suggests that those engaged in such activities think like “children of the USSR” and assume that because the new powers that be have so many enemies, they can exploit the situation by turning them in. If this judgment is correct, it suggests the perception of the population is that the Russian occupation officials are anything but legitimate.

Kirillov says that in Crimea since the beginning of the Russian occupation, “bosses have begun to report on their subordinates, and subordinates on their bosses, the employees of one office on those of another,” including among government officials. Businesses hope to gain contracts, employees hope to oust bosses, and government employees hope to promote themselves in the eyes of the occupying authorities.

Moreover, he continues, “journalists are denouncing other journalists who have remained in Crimea, doctors are denouncing doctors, school directors their staffs,” and so on and on.  Recently, he says, “an especially terrible kind” of denunciation has made an appearance—neighbors denouncing neighbors in the hopes of obtaining their property.  Fortunately, this form has not yet assumed the proportions of the others, but there is little reason to think that it will not continue to grow as long as the occupation lasts.

Unlike in Soviet times, when people knew just where to deliver denunciations, many in Crimea are struggling to identify the proper “addressees.” Some send these notorious memos to the top of the occupation pyramid, which appears to be especially interested in damaging personal data about Crimeans. But others are turning to the militia, the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the procuracy as well. The system, like much else, is still not regularized. But there seems to be little doubt that it will be, Kirillov says, noting that the occupation authorities have already taken over all the personal files they can