Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Saami Doing Much Better in Norway Than Across the Border in Russia

By Paul Goble

Members of the Saami nationality living in northern Norway are doing far better than their co-ethnics living on the other side of the Russian Federation border near Murmansk. Indeed, the differences between the standard of living of the two groups represents one of the most striking indictments of the achievement of Norway in helping this numerically small people of the North to successfully modernize and the almost utter failure of the Russian Federation to do the same.

The natural environment on the two sides of the border is remarkably similar, Ilya Klishin of Moscow’s independent Dozhd television says, and that makes the differences between the way the Saami live in Norway and the way they do in Russia even more striking. And because the Saami are a single nation, the elimination of that cultural factor as a source of differences make the system differences between Norway and Russia all that much more obvious (snob.ru, September 29).

On the Russian side of the border, Klishin says, Murmansk, a city of 300,000, produces “an oppressive impression.” Docks are empty, buildings are in decay, soldiers are marching about and formerly important “industrial leviathans” are quiet, surrounded by “depressed” Khrushchev-era slums. The oblast has 700,000 people in all, and “almost all of them live in cities where the predominant color is the gray of concrete blocks” (snob.ru, September 29).

In Norway’s Finmark, just over the border, there are just 70,000 people, but they live in brightly colored houses, have cafes, boats, bars, malls and hotels even in the smallest cities with populations of less than a thousand. Foreigners who come there to fish often “remain to live,” something that simply does not happen in Murmansk. The Russian city is not expecting any visitors and it does not receive any: air tickets are absurdly expensive, and the hotels are bad and usually empty.

Sometimes Norwegians from further away come in to drink—alcohol is cheaper—but the Saami and Norwegians living near the border do not. The only reason they go to Russia is for gasoline, but they do not stay any longer than they have to, Klishin continues. On the Norwegian side of the border, the Saami are thriving; on the Russian side, they, like the Pomors before them, are dying out and may disappear. The Pomors, a subgroup of Russians, numbered 260,000 in 1926; now they amount to only 20,000 or even fewer.

All this, the Dozhd journalist says, prompts the question: “Why can we not, even on our own land, settle ourselves in a normal way?” Is it because of the Soviet experiment? Or is it something in ourselves? As the collapse of the Soviet Union recedes into the past, the second hypothesis seems increasingly likely, he suggests.  And then he makes the most damning indictment of all: What one sees in Murmansk in comparison to Norway is not limited to that region but involves all of the Russian Federation (snob.ru, September 29).

Clearly, at some point, “Vladimir Putin will leave”; but this problem, he says, tragically promises to remain.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Russian Internet Freedom Still Threatened, Despite Government Claims

By Risa Chubinsky
Two weeks ago, an anonymous federal source stated that an upcoming meeting of the Security Council was planning to discuss whether or not to develop the internal capabilities to temporarily disconnect Russia from the worldwide web (Vedomosti, September 19). President Putin seemingly settled the question at the meeting on Wednesday, October 1, stating, “We do not intend to limit access to the Internet, to put it under total control, to nationalize the Internet… Media freedoms, the right of people to receive and disseminate information—these are basic principles of any democratic state and society… We are not even considering [limiting access to the Internet]” (kremlin.ru, October 1).
However, Putin also discussed the “significant” increase in cyber attacks in the last six months, directly correlating them to political circumstances, and reiterated Russia’s need to, “…secure the stability and security of the Russian segment of the Internet” (kremlin.ru, October 1). According to somewhat contradictory statements made before and after the meeting by Russian Press-Secretary Dmitry Peskov, the original impetus for the discussion was to ensure that the Russian segment of the Internet, or “Runet”, would be sufficiently protected in case of an unexpected external shutoff (Rossiiskaya Gazeta, September 19; forbes.ru, October 1).
While research ordered by the Ministry of Communications and Mass Media (Minkomsviaz) in July supported the view that the Runet is indeed vulnerable, recently enacted Internet laws suggest that the Russian government, despite what it says, is not just trying to improve Internet security but also is incrementally increasing control over online infrastructure and access. These laws will require all email and social media services, like Twitter, Facebook, and Google, to register with the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor) (Rossiiskaya Gazeta, September 29), and to store user information on domestically located services (TASS, July 22; see EDM, October 2).
Additionally, the government mandated in August that public wi-fi users must identify themselves before gaining online access (Interfax, August 8). For anyone without a Russian cell phone number (which can only be purchased by registering a passport), this means keying in passport information directly to the hotspot (Izvestia, August 21).  Furthermore, extremism laws meant to block sites pertaining to themes like child pornography, suicide, terrorism and narcotics are often applied in unrelated political circumstances (newsru.com, March 14).
Given the increasing governmental restrictions on cyberspace, it seems that federal discussions over Internet control will continue in the foreseeable future. In light of this, questions remain regarding how much control the Kremlin can feasibly exert over the Runet. So far, the answers are far from conclusive. The government claims that its concern regarding external cyber attacks currently stems from Russia’s inability to control Internet domains (which, in fact, it currently can—specifically over the .ru and .рф domains through an independent body known as the Coordination Center), as well as IP address assignments (which are currently controlled by the US-based Internet Association for Assigned Names and Numbers—ICANN). To date, this fear appears to be unfounded, since ICANN has never restricted access to IP addresses, even for heavily sanctioned countries like Iran. It is more likely that these voiced concerns are a response not to any credible threat to external Russian Internet access, but rather to the increasing need to foster nationalistic sentiment in a country that has been hard-hit by Western sanctions. (Gazeta.ru, October 2)
Interestingly, the Russian government has all but ignored a small but active segment of its own Internet, the domain .su, originally created for the former Soviet Union. The .su domain is operated by a separate organization, the Fund for Internet Development, from the .ru and .рф domains. In recent years, the domain has become popular for its lack of registration requirements. Although this has made .su a popular domain for hackers (RT, May 31, 2013), the government has done little to address these obvious cyber transgressions, an obvious logical contradiction in the government’s stated mission to improve Internet security.
Yet as was evidenced in Egypt in 2011 and Syria in 2012, Internet service providers (ISP) are a far more influential target in terms of wide-scale Internet control on a national level than domain control. Unlike Egypt, a country with less than ten such providers, or Syria, which has two, Russia is a physically enormous country with hundreds of ISPs (Azzatyq, October 3). However, 77 percent of the providers are controlled by just six companies; state-controlled Rostelekom, alone, controls 38 percent of all broadband Internet in Russia, with access to nine million users (LookAtMe, September 16). Therefore, while it would be nearly impossible to control each and every remote ISP, the government could restrict access to a majority of users with relative ease.
Yet, just because the government could pull off such a feat does not mean that it would necessarily want to. Unlike the acts of online filtration that the government already engages in, a broad disconnect from the global net could result in an administrative nightmare. According to Internet Ombudsman Dmitry Marinichev, the Russian Internet was developed using pre-existing international structures. Cutting the Runet off from the worldwide web, aside from posing technical challenges, could also present a host of administrative and organizational problems (Vedomosti, September 19). It is expected that Marinichev will elaborate on these issues in a letter to Putin on Tuesday (October 7) (Birzhevoi Lider, October 3). Additionally, the financial costs associated with such an endeavor would be tremendous and a potential drain on government resources (snob.ru, October 1; Ekho Moskvy, September 30).
Lastly, one must also consider timing. Coordinating an Internet shutdown across the country could be difficult, but building the infrastructure to control online information will take much longer (Radio Svoboda, September 22). Since the Kremlin is currently short on funds but with time to spare, this seems to be the more prudent approach. So for the time being, it appears that the Russian government will continue to quietly increase control over domestic information (forbes.ru, October 3) while everyone else watches and waits for the next big debate.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Water Dispute Heats up on the Dagestan-Azerbaijan Border

By Paul Goble

The Dagestan-Azerbaijan border has been a troubled one since 1991 because it divided communities that had long been united and left people on one side who felt greater affinity for ethnic communities on the other. But that problem, which many observers had thought was moving toward a solution as a result of talks between Baku and Moscow, has now been exacerbated by another that few had assumed would ever be an issue: water rights.

In 1967, the Soviet government mandated that more water from the Samur River on the border go to Azerbaijan than to Dagestan despite a rapidly growing population on the northern bank. That arrangement continued until September 2010, when the two sides agreed to share the transborder river’s waters equally.  But apparently, that has not ended the problem.

In recent weeks, Dagestanis living on the northern bank have complained that Azerbaijan is using more water than it is supposed to under the accord, something that both Baku and Makhachkala deny.  Ramadan Abdulatipov, the head of Dagestan, noted that the Samur is currently dumping nine times as much water into the Caspian as Dagestanis consume, and he accused those of claiming otherwise of having “dry brains” rather than a dry river (nazaccent.ru, September 18).

But Abdulatipov’s words are unlikely to calm the situation.  For one thing, Dagestanis think they should have first claim on the river’s waters—it originates in Dagestan and flows along the Azerbaijani border for only 38 kilometers of its length. But also they point out that there is no reliable monitoring of how much water the Azerbaijanis are taking out and whether that is related to the declining water levels along much of the river or whether this is simply the result of this year’s drought (nazaccent.ru, September 13).

One of the local leaders of the riparian communities on the Dagestan side told Nazaccent.ru that the nine villages are having problems not only with water for their crops but even for personal use and that they have complained to both Moscow and Makhachkala, but so far without effect. Apparently, he said, other issues between Russia and Azerbaijan are viewed as more important than theirs (nazaccent.ru, September 13).

But there are two other reasons which suggest this issue is not going away. On the one hand, many Dagestanis are concerned about the building of a new reservoir on the Samur, something they believe will keep them from collecting the water they need.  And on the other, tensions between the Lezgins and the ethnic Azerbaijanis on the south side of the river, never easy in recent years, appear to be intensifying.

As a result, disputes about water from the Samur River are likely to exacerbate relations between Dagestan and Moscow, which is not addressing that republic’s concerns in this and other areas. But also, frictions is likely to continue between the two aforementioned ethnic groups inside of Azerbaijan, each of which views the other with suspicion.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Announcement of New Polish Government Hints at Less Active Foreign Policy

By Matthew Czekaj

Following the selection, this past August, of Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk to head the European Council in Brussels, his named successor, Ewa Kopacz revealed the make-up of her new cabinet on Friday, September 19 (dziennik.pl, September 19). The new government, in many ways is supposed to represent a seamless continuation of the former one led by Tusk until his official resignation on September 11 to pursue the top leadership position in the European Union. As the new Prime Minister Kopacz told journalists, she will not be changing the number or structure of the cabinet or the individual ministries, and the majority of the ministers (12 out of 18) will continue in their previous roles. Nonetheless, her announced government—ceremonially sworn in by President Bronislaw Komorowski on Monday (gazetalubuska.pl, September 22)—included a few important shake-ups, which may presage a decline in Poland’s regional leadership role within Europe.

The most notable, though not unexpected (dziennik.pl, September 17; Gazeta Wyborcza, September 3), change has been the replacement of Foreign Minister Radoslaw “Radek” Sikorski with Grzegorz Schetyna. A former minister of interior in the Tusk government (2007–2009), Schetyna was forced to resign amid a domestic scandal that had come to be known as the “Gambling Affair” (“Afera hazardowa”). Once considered a top official in the ruling Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska—PO) and a close confidante of Donald Tusk, Schetyna had more recently been pushed to the margins of the party, apparently after showing too much political ambition during his brief stint as speaker of the lower house of parliament (marshal of the Sejm) between July 2010 and November 2011 (The Economist, September 19). As marshal of the Sejm, Schetyna also constitutionally served as interim president during the period between Poland’s last presidential election and Komorowski’s inauguration to the post. Some members of PO reportedly fear that he may try to use his new position in the government to punish those party factions that marginalized him over the past few years (Gazeta Wyborcza, September 22). Meanwhile, after seven years formulating Warsaw’s foreign policy as Poland’s top diplomat, the outspoken and internationally well-known Sikorski has been sent back to parliament to take over from Kopacz as speaker of the Sejm. Nonetheless, anticipating the question from journalists, Kopacz promised that there would be seamless continuation in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs between Sikorski and Schetyna.

A second major difference between the outgoing Tusk and incoming Kopacz governments has been the elevation of the defense minister post—still occupied by Tomasz Siemoniak—to a deputy prime minister position. Kopacz, noting that this was her first decision in forming the new cabinet, justified her rationale by stating, “I want him [Defense Minister Siemoniak] to be one of my closest partners, not only because today’s world requires a strong army, but principally because of his qualifications and strength of character” (Rzeczpospolita, September 19).

The new Polish government—and in particular, the replacement of Sikorski with Schetyna—has stirred up a great deal of controversy from multiple directions. Well-known journalist for The Economist and a long-time observer of Central-Eastern European affairs, Edward Lucas, has been particularly harsh in his evaluation of the new cabinet, calling it “v[ery] shaky” and unimpressive compared to what came before it (gazeta.pl, September 19). He criticized the nomination of Schetyna as foreign policy chief during such a difficult diplomatic and regional security environment for Poland, noting Schetyna’s lack of experience or, heretofore, interest in international affairs. And Lucas’ magazine, meanwhile, lamented the passing of the outspoken, polyglot Sikorski from the world stage, where he has become well known and respected among world leaders, only to be replaced by the mostly unknown Schetyna—who has very limited knowledge of any foreign languages (The Economist, September 19).

Nor has the reproach come exclusively from abroad. Days before the final cabinet’s announcement, even Schetyna himself told the press that he thought Sikorski should be allowed to finish out his term as foreign minister in light of current international challenges (dziennik.pl, September 17). And apparently, Schetyna’s own mother confirmed her son’s opinion (gazeta.pl, September 19).

The opposition in parliament has also openly criticized the new government, calling it little more than a reshuffling of PO politicians already seen before in previous Tusk-led cabinets, and whose make-up will only satisfy Civic Platform (gazeta.pl, September 19). Opposition politicians have also lambasted the naming of Sikorski as the next marshal of the Sejm, arguing that due to his fiery personality, his role as speaker will result only in arguments, political attacks and gridlock between the ruling majority and the minority parties (gazeta.pl, September 19; natemat.pl, September 12; tvp.info, September 15).

A number of theories exist as to why Sikorski was dismissed from his position at the head of the foreign ministry and sent to chair the lower house of parliament. On the one hand, Kopacz claimed that the new post was meant to be a promotion for Sikorski. And indeed, according to the Polish constitution, the chair of the Sejm—which is first in line to the presidency in an emergency—is one of the most powerful positions in the country’s political system. However, Jacek Gowin, a politician with the opposition Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc—PiS) party, argues that Sikorski used his influence to extort the Sejm speaker post for himself as a platform from which to rebuild his political stature and simultaneously attack Prime Minister Kopacz in a struggle for control of PO (rmf24.pl, September 15). Alternatively, rumors from a source close to Tusk suggest that President Komorowski himself pressed Kopacz to keep Sikorski out of the new government due to his prominent role in the recent eavesdropping scandal (Gazeta Wyborcza, September 3). Considering that both Sikorski and former interior minister Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz (another politician whose controversial recorded conversations were released to the media) lost their ministerial positions on Friday, this may be an apt theory.

Domestic political intrigues aside, the make-up of the new government, and in particular the off-the-cuff responses to journalists by the new prime minister, suggest that Poland’s continuing foreign policy direction may not be quite as unbending as Kopacz had promised. Of course, Schetyna’s relative lack of foreign policy experience bears watching. But the struggling government in Kyiv likely took note of Kopacz’s prosaic answer to a journalist’s question about whether Warsaw would be assisting Ukraine with arms sales or helping in a multi-national coalition against the Islamic State. She replied that the country should react to outside threats like a “rational Polish woman,” who responds to a threatening individual she meets in the street by turning around, going home, locking the doors and minding after her children. “Our country, our home and our children are the most important,” Kopacz proclaimed. She added that Warsaw should not take a position counter to the rest of the European Union, but should follow the consensus, suggesting both that her government would not be taking stances counter to the interests of the West, but at the same time be unlikely to take a leading role in formulating policy toward Russia or the ongoing crisis in Ukraine (TVN24, September 19).

Granted, it may be too early to pass judgment on a government several days old. But signs are already apparent that Prime Minister Kopacz’s government may possibly adopt a more inward-looking foreign policy compared to the robust, European-directed diplomacy that was built up by Sikorski and Tusk over the last seven years.

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 (qha.com.ua, 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 (qha.com.ua, 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) (Kremlin.ru, 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 (kremlin.ru, 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; FreshFruitPortal.com, 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 (kremlin.ru, 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) (kremlin.ru, 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 (kremlin.ru, 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 (fergananews.com, 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” (fergananews.com, 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, Fergana.ru 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 (trend.az, 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 (1news.az, 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 (trend.az, 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 (Yap.org.az, 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” (apmahachkala.ru, 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?” (apmahachkala.ru, 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 (sp-analytic.ru, 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 (kmbook.ru, 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 (kmbook.ru, accessed August 4), Crimea Is Forever With Russia (kmbook.ru accessed August 4), Neo-Nazis & Euromaidan: From Democracy to Dictatorship (kmbook.ru, 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 (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.