Thursday, July 31, 2014

Denunciations Making a Comeback in Russian-Occupied Crimea

By Paul Goble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 (, 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’” (, 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 (, 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 (, 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 (, 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 (, July 16).