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 (krymr.com, July 23; unian.net, 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 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Nationalist Genie and the Bottle Uncorked

By Richard Arnold

While the latest events in eastern Ukraine—in particular, the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 by pro-Russia separatist forces—may have proven a step too far even for Vladimir Putin, for many in Moscow the problem lies not with the Kremlin’s activity in the conflict but its lack thereof. Infamous right-wing publicist and member of the Izbornii club (a right-wing think tank associated with Neo-Nazi ideas) Maxim Kalashnikov and sometime Kremlin ideologist Alexander Dugin have called on Putin to support the rebels in Ukraine’s eastern region of Donbas militarily—in other words, with a more overt military intervention (ru.krymyr.com, July 19). Nor has the pressure come entirely from forces outside the regime, as even Vladislav Surkov and economic advisor Sergei Glazyrev have voiced dissatisfaction with the government’s failure to act. Similarly, Moscow has seen popular rallies and the mobilization of huge stores of humanitarian aid to beleaguered forces in Ukraine (see EDM, July 16).

Some of the most active—not to mention fanatical—fighters in eastern Ukraine are Russian nationalists with ties to various Russian Neo-Nazi movements, such as the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (known by its Russian acronym, DPNI). And equally disappointed with what they believe is the Kremlin’s inaction, the DPNI recently re-initiated its anti-corruption campaign against Putin and the regime. For example, one article on the DPNI website posits that the regime is afraid to initiate a conflict due to the Russian oligarchs’ fear that their “umbilical cord” to the West—holiday homes on the Cote d’Azur and London boarding schools for their children—could be cut (DPNI, June 23).

Similarly, the National News Service, endorsed by a group calling itself “Russian Sector” (a play on the Ukrainian far right group “Right Sector”), posted an article decrying the involvement of modern-day “Chekists”—meaning the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB)—in the Ukraine conflict and throughout recent Russian history, including in the 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow that served as a casus belli for the second Chechen War. The article goes on to claim that “it is easy to comprehend that the chief commander of the DNR [Donetsk People’s Republic] is an FSB colonel, and the head of the DNR is an FSB general specializing in ‘delicate operations’” (rusnsn.info, July 14). The National News Service piece was authored by Vladimir Potkin, who also goes by the Internet name ‘Basmanov’ and is the younger brother of Alexander Potkin (a.k.a. Belov)—both men are leaders of the DPNI. Assuming the article represents the general viewpoint of Russian neo-Nazis on the conflict in Ukraine, their disenchantment with a hesitant Kremlin that has so far failed to unite the “Russian world” bodes ill for stability in Ukraine and in the post-Soviet space more generally.


Overall, it should not be surprising that the Putin regime’s perceived reluctance to pursue the nationalist cause has inspired such a renewal of criticism. Some analysts have argued that Putin’s opportunistic annexation of Crimea was an attempt to rebuild the popularity of a regime weakened by the 2011–2012 anti-corruption street protests, in which many Russian far right groups took part. In order to fortify itself, the regime incited nationalist fervor; and it now may be dangerous to try and contain these passions. If the regime wishes to harness the nationalist juggernaut, it may have to ride the train further than it had originally intended.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Central Asian Border Disputes Involve Fights Over Maps

By Paul Goble

Despite having been independent for more than 20 years, the countries of Central Asia still have not agreed on precisely where their borders are. At present, disputes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, on the one hand, and between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, on the other, are heating up, with negotiations not going anywhere fast. In both cases, and especially in the first, the dispute about where the exact line should pass involves a fight over just which maps from the tsarist and Soviet pasts should be accepted.

In the case of the Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan dispute, the two sides, despite having held meetings every ten days on this issue for some years, cannot even agree on how much of their shared 1,378-kilometer-long border has been agreed to. Bishkek says that the two sides have agreed on 1,003 km, while Tashkent insists that the two governments have agreed on the delimitation of only 701 km (kyrtag.kg, July 14).

The situation concerning the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border is even more complicated. Kyrgyzstan’s officials say that the Tajiks are claiming 135,000 hectares of what Bishkek says are Kyrgyzstani lands, although the Kyrgyz Republic’s diplomats acknowledge that these Tajikistani claims so far have been made only “orally” and “not officially.” Nonetheless, this conflict is likely to intensify because the lands involved are in the heavily populated Ferghana Valley and not in unpopulated regions that the two sides have found it easier to reach agreement on (kyrtag.kg, July 14).

But underlying this dispute, which has already led to border clashes between the forces of the two countries over the last several years, are fights about which historical map should be considered the most authoritative. Tajikistanis consider the most authoritative maps to be the Soviet ones prepared between 1924 and 1939, as part of the territorial delimitation of the entire region and often based on tsarist military maps. The Kyrgyzstanis, in contrast, insist that the maps that should be examined to settle the dispute are those of the Soviet volumes on administrative divisions from 1958-1959 and 1989, as confirmed by the Supreme Soviet of the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) in the latter year (centrasia.ru, July 16).

The first Soviet maps of these republics were prepared in 1924, at the end of the territorial delimitation of the region. These maps reflected Soviet needs and were largely based on the maps prepared by the tsarist military in 1896, which described the region in terms of natural features like mountains, rivers and the like. The 1924 Soviet map was modified in succeeding years as Moscow redrew the borders at the request of one or another of the governments in the region. This complex history is described by V.N. Fedchina in her classic study, “How the Map of Central Asia was Created” (in Russian, Moscow: Nauka, several editions).

On the basis of this history, Maksim Vedeneyev of the “Tsentr Asiya” news service says the Tajikistanis are in the right in their claims against Kyrgyzstan. But not surprisingly, current politics may lead to another outcome or no solution at all—at least anytime soon (centrasia.ru, July 16). 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Crimean Anschluss Provoking a New Russian Regionalism

By Paul Goble

Vladimir Putin’s push for the federalization of Ukraine is now echoing in Russian regions, nowhere more powerfully than in the exclave of Kaliningrad, where support for independence has declined in recent years from 7 percent to 4 percent. But, at the same time, calls by its residents for the oblast to be given “special status”—and that is what most Russians understand by “federalization”—have increased to 53 percent.

According to Russian analyst Pavel Pryannikov, who blogs at Ttolk.ru, “the ‘Russian spring’ in Crimea and in the eastern portion of Ukraine has shown the ordinary Russian that from now on the norm in his region and in his country could become” something very different than it has been in the past (ttolk.ru/?p=20658).

Indeed, he suggests, ordinary Russians now increasingly feel that in pursuit of what they believe is Kremlin-approved “federalization,” they might choose to seize government buildings, carry weapons, nationalize the property of the oligarchs, and decide the most important questions via referendum.

That is a lesson Moscow certainly does not want its own population to learn or even more to see manifested in the event of inter-ethnic conflicts or the next round of cutbacks in company towns. And it is one that would be especially worrisome in Kaliningrad, which has always been considered “one of the most separatist regions in Russia.”

In a poll conducted in 2003, “fewer than a quarter of Kaliningraders” did not want any significant political or economic changes in the status of their oblast, with about 7 percent calling for independence, 12 percent for its joint subordination to the European Union and Russia, 37 percent for a special economic status within Russia, and 11 percent for a special political one (ttolk.ru/?p=20658).

Support for any such fundamental shifts in the status of Kaliningrad fell until recently, almost certainly because Moscow did send more money to the region and because Vladimir Putin made it clear that his government would crack down hard on any calls for independence or joint subordination to the European Union.

But a poll taken in April, that is after the Crimean anschluss, shows that Kaliningraders are once again thinking about the status of their oblast and how it might or should be changed (ewkaliningrad.ru/news/community/3586277-opros-uroven-separatistskikh-nastroeniy-v-kaliningradskoy-oblasti-stremitsya-k-nulyu.html). On the one hand, Moscow certainly took pleasure in the fact that the percentage of Kaliningraders calling for independence fell by almost half to 4 percent.  But on the other, the Russian government can hardly be pleased that “the number of Kaliningraders who consider that their region should have a special status—that is, [be a beneficiary of real] ‘federalization’”—is up sharply to 53 percent. 

In commenting on the results, the New Kaliningrad portal said that “the level of so-called separatist attitudes in Kaliningrad oblast today is in fact falling toward zero,” a reflection of what it suggested “was a consolidation of the regional community around the notion that separation from Russia is an impermissible thought.”  But at the same time, as Pryannikov points out, Kaliningraders do not want to be a region like any other but “a special region.” And as Putin and his ruling team have implied in Ukraine, that could open the way for independence or joining a neighboring country at some point in the future.

Consequently, while the face of Kaliningrad is changing under the impact of the Crimean annexation, the challenges that this non-contiguous Baltic region poses for Moscow are likely to grow. This is all the more so because, having taken the position it has pushed in Ukraine, the Putin regime is likely to be far less capable of preventing the growth of this new set of attitudes not only in Kaliningrad but in other predominantly ethnic-Russian regions of the country.

And that, in turn, means Russian regionalism may prove an even greater threat to Moscow’s ability to govern the country than even do the national movements of the various non-Russian nations currently within the borders of the Russian Federation.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Pushkino Skhod Reflects Pattern of Russian Federation’s Move to the Right

By Richard Arnold
  
In the Moscow region town of Puskhino, on Thursday, May 15, football fans and other hooligans held another skhod (people’s gathering) which resulted in the arrests of 40 people. The skhod drew around 500 people out into the streets to march in protest to the May 13 murder of 22-year-old Spartak Moscow fan Leonid Safyanikov by two men, one of whom was a migrant from Uzbekistan, Zhazoniyra Akhmed. Following the deadly incident, Akhmed flew to Uzbekistan. The skhod threatened to morph into a pogrom before order was restored by riot police (OMON) and other law enforcement authorities (http://tvrain.ru/articles/bolee_40_chelovek_zaderzhany_v_podmoskovnom_pushkino-368448/). Indeed, several times, the people who had met for the skhod did actually engage in violence, trying to break through to a dormitory where working migrants are known to live. For the most part, however, those who gathered for the skhod were simply content to take an aggressive public stance at an ethnic rally (http://by24.org/2014/05/15/russian_march_in_pushkino/). Zhazoniyra Akhmed was charged under article 111 (intentional infliction of harm to victim, resulting in death), article 166 (stealing a car), and article 167 (intentional damage to others’ property), and ordered detained in absentia. With the help of Uzbekistan’s criminal authorities, the diaspora, and human rights organizations, Akhmed flew back to Moscow and was formally arrested at Domodedovo airport (http://www.vz.ru/news/2014/5/16/687123.html). Other than the immediate events that allowed the protest to happen, the Puskhino skhod is notable for three reasons.

First, it demonstrates the continued success of the Far Right’s tactic of mobilizing ordinary people in response to particular crimes, which are then generalized to an entire ethnic diaspora group. The so-called “Kondopoga technology” (http://jamestownfoundation.blogspot.com/2013/07/pugachyov-and-kondopoga-technology.html) has been used to great effect in generating hostility to migrants in the past. The events of Pushkino demonstrate that this is still an avenue of mobilization open to the Far Right. Similarly, this incident suggests that actors on the Russian Far Right are indeed promoting this as a way to address social problems.

Second, the Pushkino events demonstrate the move of the Far Right toward concentrating on football fans. Since the banning of the Far Right ‘Movement Against Illegal Immigration’ in 2011 (http://rt.com/politics/russia-court-movement-ban/) and the general crackdown on skinhead gangs by the Russian authorities, Far Right groups have tried to recruit supporters amongst soccer fans and team fan clubs. Of course, football fans all across Europe are believed to be affiliated with Far Right organizations, and in Russia the cooperation between the two groups has been well documented. Still, the abandonment of any kind of formal structure outside the groups of football fans is notable.


Third, it foretells that the Russian regime itself may move even further to the right. The protests in 2012 against Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency combined two social opposition forces—the nationalists and the liberals—who might never have had anything to do with one another were it not for Putin’s reelection to the Kremlin. In order to prevent further dissent, the regime repressed the liberals but tried to co-opt the ethno-nationalists, as witnessed by Putin’s use of the term “Russki” (ethnic-Russian) nation in his speech on March 18, welcoming the annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol (http://eng.kremlin.ru/transcripts/6889). Because the regime now relies on such people for support, it is unable to crack down on expressions of ethnic pride and racism without undermining itself. Hence, the Russian state in the future is likely to permit more skhods and possibly move even further to the right. The riots in Pushkino are perhaps part of a pattern that will set the contours of Russian (and global) politics for a long time to come.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Rogozin’s Threats Highlight Russia’s Isolation

By Richard Arnold

Russia’s international isolation progressed even further on May 15, when Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin announced that Russia would be blocking the signal of the American Global Positioning Satellite system on its territory. From June 1, the “work of American stations transmitting the GPS signal in Russia will be terminated unless negotiations concerning the placement of GLONASS stations on American territory are completed” (http://www.mk.ru/politics/2014/05/13/nemnozhko-ponizitsya-tochnost-priema-signala-gps-na-territorii-rossii-i-sootvetstvenno-tochnost-priema-signala-glonass-na-territorii-ssha.html). GLONASS is the Russian rival to the American GPS system, which is admittedly many years behind, although it is predicted to be roughly comparable in quality to GPS (http://www.echo.msk.ru/news/1319382-echo.html).

Rogozin’s statement is of more symbolic than practical importance, as there is no indication that, outside of Russia, the system will be affected at all. The idea that the United States could use its GPS system to gain some possible military advantage in a confrontation with Russia has also been ridiculed even on the Russian Internet (http://www.computerra.ru/99241/). Rather, the primary effect of such a move is most likely to be symbolic and a perfect metaphor for Russia’s choice to opt out of the international system in the wake of Moscow’s confrontation with the West over Ukraine.

Dmitry Rogozin had earlier provided another metaphor for Russia’s isolation on May 14, when he declared that Russia would be ceasing cooperation with the United States’ space agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) after 2020 (http://ria.ru/space/20140514/1007700147.html). Russia would be redirecting its attention elsewhere, Rogozin said, and not to joint space exploration (see EDM, May 15). The announcement should be troubling for NASA, as Russian rockets launched from the Baikonur space station in Kazakhstan currently remain the only way of reaching the International Space Station (ISS) following the termination of the US shuttle program in 2011. If the United States wants to keep the orbiting laboratory functioning beyond its putative end of use date of 2024, it will have to work out another way of carrying supplies and astronauts to and from the ISS. Joint cooperation in space continued between the United States and the Soviet Union even during the Cold War, so this announcement implies an even frostier relationship than was true in the middle of the last century.

On April 2, in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) already suspended cooperation with Russia in Afghanistan, including in counter-narcotics and helicopter maintenance programs (http://www.newsru.com/russia/27mar2014/fskn.html). A counter-narcotics program in the country is clearly in Moscow’s best interest due to Russia being the biggest market for Afghan heroin and hashish. At the same time, Russian investment in Afghanistan is picking up steam, possibly suggesting Putin’s desire to anchor his position in Central Asia (http://inosmi.ru/world/20140322/218866437.html). Afghanistan is a particularly symbolic case due to it being the graveyard of the Soviet Union after US-backed Mujahedeen turned the country into a quagmire similar to Vietnam for the United States. Restoring Russia’s position in Afghanistan would be a major symbolic victory for Vladimir Putin, who could truly claim to have exorcised the ghost of Soviet demise. Taken individually, none of these moves is likely to have an effect on the international order; but taken together, they provide evidence that a new climate of mutual suspicion, distrust and fear has settled over the world. Such international discord creates new opportunities for other rising powers in the world to become more assertive and is possibly at least a partial explanation for the timing of Chinese activism in the South China Sea and in Vietnam.

Friday, May 9, 2014

‘Ethno-Religious Organized Crime’ Now Threatens North Caucasus, Moscow Says

By Paul Goble

The Russian Procuracy has told the Federation Council (upper chamber of parliament) that “the greatest threat to security and stability in the North Caucasus region comes from organized criminal formations of a religious-extremist direction, which have formed diversionary groups” (interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=55156).

Moscow officials clearly intend this to be a sign of progress in their fight against the militants, an indication that militant groups are no longer receiving as much funding from abroad as they did, and that the militants are having to return to methods they used in the early 1990s to finance their operations. But the situation is more complicated than that, and the convergence of criminal and militant groups in the North Caucasus may make it more difficult for the authorities there to root out either. Indeed, this symbiosis could lead to a new growth in both.

While Moscow’s latest statement is little more than a combination of charges Russian officials have made against the militants in the North Caucasus in the past, it calls attention to three new developments, each of which bears watching.  First, it suggests that the militants now have an increasingly effective way of financing themselves domestically even if Moscow is able to cut off their funding from abroad.  Indeed, the report says that one of the most common kinds of criminal-militant interaction is the use of stolen or lost bank cards to funnel money to anti-Russian groups in the countryside.

Second, the new terminology suggests that Russian officials now plan to charge at least some “ordinary” criminals with links to those Moscow identifies as terrorists.  That would significantly increase the sentences of anyone so charged.  Russian prosecutors clearly believe that this will act as a deterrent against the willingness of any criminal to cooperate with militants.  But the result could be exactly the opposite: If ordinary criminals are likely to face such charges, they may have good reason to link up with militants who may be in a position to provide them with some protection against judicial overreach.  Indeed, such a change in Russian prosecutorial behavior could lead to the growth of militant groups rather than the reverse.

And third, this new term suggests that Moscow now faces a far more deep-rooted problem than it did in the past. If criminal groups and militant ones are linking up in the ways that the prosecutors say, then the Russian authorities face a far more difficult challenge in the North Caucasus than they have been claiming in recent years. That such a conclusion is justified is suggested by the report itself: it says that given what is taking place, the authorities must set up “a reliable organization of operational-investigative activity directed in the first instance at uncovering criminal intensions and also at the identification and location of persons involved in the preparation and carrying out of crimes of a terrorist character.”

At the very least, this suggests that, today, Russian law enforcement bodies are, in fact, very much afraid that they face an enemy who is stronger than in the past.