Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cossack Participation in Elections May Destabilize Russia

By Paul Goble

Two weeks ago, the Russian Presidential Council of Cossack Affairs officially gave its blessing to the formation of Cossack “druzhinniki” patrol units, many of which have already been formed, and to the formation of Cossack political parties for participating in regional and municipal elections. To legitimize its decision, the Council cited the provisions of the Kremlin’s strategy document for the development of Russian Cossackry up to 2020 that was approved in September 2012 (

How fast these decisions will be implemented is an open question—the Council indicated that some will occur in 2014–2015 and others only after that time. And because they will require changes in Russian law, it is almost certain that they will generate opposition among both ethnic-Russian and non-Russian groups who will object to Cossacks having a right that other nationalities lack. Furthermore, some will fear that such parties could become a Trojan horse for extremist elements in Russia. Kremlin efforts to secure such laws are, therefore, likely to provoke demands from Russians and non-Russians alike that they too should be given the right to form ethnically-based parties.

The decision of the Presidential Council on Cossack Affairs to allow Cossacks to form political parties and participate in local and regional elections could prove even more destabilizing to the Russian Federation than the involvement of Cossacks in patrolling Russian cities. First, many non-Russians view the Cossacks as a Russian force. They will thus likely see the emergence of such parties as akin to allowing the Russians the right to form an ethnically based political party—something nationalities in the Russian Federation are now blocked from doing. Second, many Russians will be radicalized by this step because they are certain to view the nationalist Cossacks as the closest thing the Russian nation can have to a party defined by nationality in the Russian Federation. And third, many Cossacks will view Moscow’s support in this area as another step toward their recognition as a separate nationality, something many of them seek but have so far been denied.

In the early 1990s, there were many ethnically based parties in non-Russian regions and republics, but these were gradually squeezed out of the legal space of the Russian Federation. These nationality-based parties were not necessarily viewed as a direct threat to the country’s territorial integrity, but rather it was argued their existence provoked discussions that ethnic Russians needed a party of their own—something many ethnic Russians still believe. The formation of such an ethnic-Russian party would likely have made the country ungovernable.

By allowing the Cossacks to form a party and to participate in local and regional elections, Moscow has reopened this issue, all the more so because ethnic tensions are greater now than they have been at any time since 1991. Furthermore, the Cossacks, having been given this right, have indicated that they want to compete for seats in the Russian Duma, something the Kremlin has not agreed to and probably will not. Thus, on that third front as well, Moscow faces new problems because of a decision that was made without a clear understanding of its implications.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Arguments in Favor of Russia Becoming Nation-State Put Forward by Kremlin-Sponsored Analyst

By Valery Dzutsev

In what appears to be the latest reaction to Ukraine’s drift toward the European Union, a Russian analyst is now arguing that the Russian Federation should reject its imperial tendencies and embrace the identity of a nation-state. Kirill Rodionov, a fellow at the Russian Academy of National Economy under the Russian President, outlines six steps to recast the country into nation-state. First, he argues, Russia should officially be declared a mono-ethnic state that contains some poly-ethnic regions. About 81 percent of the country’s population is composed of ethnic Russians, according to Rodionov. Second, “the transition of Russia from an empire to a nation-state cannot take place without the secession of the Islamic republics of the North Caucasus—Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia—that culturally belong to the Middle Eastern civilization [sic].” Third, a particularly stringent visa regime should be introduced between Russia and the countries of the South Caucasus and Central Asia in order to retain Russia as a country with a Russian culture. Fourth, Rodionov argues, all integrationist supranational structures in the former Soviet space, such as the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), should be disbanded. Fifth, ethnic Russians who reside abroad in former Soviet republics should receive opportunities to assume Russian citizenship, while those Russian passports that were distributed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia should be declared void. Sixth, the asymmetry of the Russian regions—oblasts, republics, autonomous regions, etc.—should be abolished, rendering all regions equal in status. These steps, according to the analyst will allow Ukraine and a nation-state Russia to cooperate with each other on an equal footing, thus preventing a further split between the two nations (

Rodionov’s affiliation at the Russian Academy of National Economy under the Russian President is certainly a sign that Russian isolationist ideas have gained some traction among the country’s ruling elite. Once again, just as it happened back in 1991, Ukraine’s move away from Russia may inadvertently lead to tectonic changes in Russia’s domestic policies as well as Russians’ view of the other countries of the former Soviet Union. Independently of Kyiv’s own reorientation, internal developments in the Russian Federation have rendered the idea of a Russian Empire somewhat burdensome to the country’s masses. While the calls to shed imperial past do not necessarily dictate the prevailing mood in the Kremlin now, if Ukraine moves decisively toward the EU and the Russian economy continues to stagnate, these ideas are likely to grow stronger and result in sweeping domestic political reforms.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Russian-Led Customs Union More Likely than EU to Islamicize Ukraine

By Paul Goble

Russians opposed to Kyiv’s plans to pursue a European rather than Eurasian vector in its foreign policy have raised the specter of all kinds of apocalyptic consequences for Ukraine if it does so. They have suggested that Ukraine will suffer economic collapse, that Russia will “revise” Ukrainian borders, and that the European Union will strip off Crimea and other regions from Kyiv’s control. But no more outrageous and flat out wrong prediction has been offered than the notion that if Ukraine integrates with Europe, that country will be overwhelmed by Arab and Islamic immigrants from the Middle East.

A clear example of this form of Russian disinformation is provided by Archpriest Yevgeny Maksimenko of the Dneprpetrovsk bishopric of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. In an article in a local newspaper that was picked up and disseminated by Russia’s Interfax news agency, Father Yevgeny says that Ukraine must not join Europe because to do so would mean that it would fill up with Europe’s “castoffs” and rapidly become “Islamicized” as have European cities (

In fact, just the reverse is certain to be the case. A vast majority of Ukraine’s perhaps two million Muslim nationality residents are Azerbaijanis or Central Asians who have moved to Ukraine for work. The indigenous Crimean Tatars number fewer than a third of a million, and other groups, including Lithuanian Tatars and ethnic Ukrainian converts to Islam, only in the hundreds. The Muslim workers from the Caucasus and Central Asia are there because of visa-free travel among member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). If Ukraine were to join the Moscow-led Customs Union or the Eurasian Union, their numbers and share of the population of Ukraine would likely increase because of higher wages in Ukrainian industries.

But if Ukraine pursues a partnership with the European Union, exactly the opposite trends will be observed. Ukraine will undoubtedly introduce visa requirements for citizens of CIS states in order to move toward visa-free travel with EU countries. As a result, many of the Muslim guest workers in Ukraine are likely to return home, reducing the overall number of Muslims there. And, perhaps most important, because Ukraine will still have sufficient labor to man its factories and because wages in Ukraine are much lower than those in the EU, few people from Arab countries or other parts of the Muslim world will have any incentive to travel there.

The only positive thing about Russian suggestions to the contrary is that they do direct attention to Ukraine’s relatively small but vibrant Muslim community. There are several hundred mosques, several muftiates, and now even a Ukrainian-language translation of the Koran. And Kyiv has just announced that 160 Muslims from Ukraine will make the haj this year, about 1 percent of the number who will do so from the Russian Federation, which is casting itself as the defender of Ukraine from Islam (;;;

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Dagestanis Put up Monument to Those Who Fought Russian Empire

By Paul Goble

When Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov dedicated a monument to women who died in the fight against Russian imperial expansion in the Caucasus in the 19th century, that action attracted a great deal of attention in Moscow and around the world (see EDM, September 26). But without much fanfare, Dagestan’s Shamil Center for Humanitarian Research has erected a monument in Gunib “in memory of heroic popular actions in the Caucasus War [1817–1864],” with the words inscribed in Russian and Arabic—a move that is likely to have even greater resonance in the North Caucasus than Kadyrov’s (

Until last week, there was not a single monument of any kind in Dagestan “devoted to the historic events of the 19th century,” according to Khadzhimurad Donogo. “Five people from our center,” he said, collected funds, ordered the monument and put it up. They chose to erect it in Gunib because that is where Shamil was forced to end his resistance struggle: Some consider that he surrendered and was taken prisoner, others that he took part in negotiations. But [however it was] the war ended here.”

Asked by whether he and his compatriots feared accusations of separatism or exacerbating inter-ethnic tensions, Donogo said that he supposed the interviewer “had in mind the history with the Chechen monument. “But what is separatist about this? This is simply a reminder of the heroic struggle of the people. Why should there be memorials for the Great Fatherland War [World War II] and the [Russian] Civil War [1917–1922] but none for the Caucasian War?”

Gadzhimurad Sagirov, the editor of Makhachkala’s Novoye Delo newspaper, agreed. Putting up such a memorial, he said, “does not have as its goal setting at odds the sides who participated in the Caucasus War and does not have any political subtext. It was done so that people, especially the young, the rising generation, will know their history and the past of their region, Dagestan and Russia.”

Whatever the intent of those who put up this modest monument, the comments of those who read the story suggest that many people in that republic see the monument as something more—or at least are investing it with meanings that simultaneously reflect the anger of Dagestanis at the Russian occupation and are likely to provoke even more in the future.

One online reply to the article suggested that “a hundred years from now, a monument will be put up to the present-day participant of the Caucasus war” and suggested that the memorial erected now needed to be clearer in whether it was to “the occupiers or the occupied.” Another suggested that the monument should have more “justly” carried the words “In memory [of] the heroic popular actions in the Caucasus War with the Russian-Fascist Usurpers.” And a third suggested that one should remember that Dagestan, and the North Caucasus more generally, had suffered from more than just Russian conquerors.

But perhaps the most thoughtful comment came from another reader who suggested that the war of monuments in the North Caucasus will continue, with the Cossacks seeking to put up more memorials to General Alexei Yermolov—the Imperial Russian military commander who conquered the Caucasus—and the Circassians a monument to their “genocide” at the hands of the Russians in Sochi.