Saturday, March 28, 2015

Why Did Stalin Save the Life of Hitler’s Gauleiter in Ukraine?

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 28 – That the Soviets and the Nazis cooperated even before the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and that Stalin and Hitler were allies between 1939 and 1941 are well known, but that Stalin interceded to save the life of Hitler’s notorious gauleiter in Ukraine and that Erich Koch was not executed but died in a Polish prison at the age of 90 in 1986 is not.


            In an essay on this week, Sergey Zotov directly asks the question “why did Stalin save Erich Kokh, the Reichskommissar of Ukraine?”  -- a question that has acquired greater interest and urgency given Vladimir Putin’s military intervention in that country over the last year (


            Koch is still remembered in Ukraine for two of his more outrageous comments and for the actions he took to implement his words. He said that he needed to create a situation in which “when a Pole meets a Ukrainian, he kills the Ukrainian and conversely the Ukrainian kills the Pole. We don’t need Russians, Ukrainians or Poles; we need fertile land.”


            And the Nazi leader also said that in his view Ukrainians so hated Russians that in support of the idea of a Ukrainian state, “they are ideal fighters against the Red Army” but after the latter is defeated, they must be subject to complete annihilation “as the most horrible barbarians.”


            Koch served as Reichskommissar over Ukraine for the entire time German forces were there. He made his capital not Kyiv but Rovno, and he set the borders of his region, “according to Rosenberg’s plan,” as ranging between Western Ukraine including Galicia to Saratov and Volgograd in the east.


            “Known for his harsh manner,” Zotov writes, “Koch was called ‘a second Stalin’ among the Germans,” not an inappropriate description for someone who sent to their graves approximately four million people.


            During the war, he was targeted by Soviet partisans for execution, but he escaped all such attacks; and at the end of the war, Koch had relocated to East Prussia from which he took a ship to Copenhagen from which he wanted to travel to Latin America via a German submarine. But his plans to do so came to nothing.


            As a result, after the war, he sought to hide near Hamburg under the name of Rolf Berger, but at meetings of refugees, Zotov says, Koch showed himself to be too gifted an orator for someone in the position he sought to present himself as and was arrested by the British occupation authorities.


            The British handed Koch over to the Soviet occupation authorities in 1949, but “the USSR refused to judge the former Gauleiter and Reichskomissar and decided to hand him over to Poland.” There he was tried, found guilty and sentenced to death. But Zotov says, that sentence was never carried out. Instead, he was given life imprisonment.


            “Neither the USSR nor the Ukrainian SSR ever asked Poland to extradite him or challenged” Warsaw on its failure to execute him, Zotov says. “What was the reason?”


            One explanation is that Koch was Stalin’s agent and that his repressive policies in Ukraine were intended to spark resistance to the German occupation. That was advanced by Russian historian Vladimir Batshev in his book, “The Partisan War: Myths and Realities” (2007).


             That possibility is suggested by the fact, Zotov continues, that under the system that existed in the Soviet bloc, only Stalin “could save a criminal of that rank,” especially since Koch was never judged for his crimes against the Ukrainian people but only for his crimes in Poland and East Prussia.


            Adding to it is the fact that at his trial, Koch “spoke about his sympathies for the Soviet Union” and even suggested that his actions undermined the plans of Rosenberg in Ukraine and thus helped the USSR. Moreover, like other Nazi leaders, he presented himself as only “a pawn” in Hitler’s game.


            It is possible, of course, that Koch could have been recruited as a Soviet agent, but then why did Stalin hand him over to Poland rather than keep him in the USSR, Zotov asks, especially since despite his harsh measures in Ukraine, he never provoked the Ukrainian people into the kind of mass uprising Stalin was in this interpretation waiting for.


            There is another far more sinister explanation, but it is one Zotov does not offer. Stalin had already moved to destroy Ukrainians via his terror famine in order to reduce their share in the Soviet population. Given that he had no problem with mass murder in principle, Stalin may not have been displeased that someone else was continuing his efforts in Ukraine.


            But however that may be, the failure of Stalin or his successors to demand that Koch be extradited and executed for what were surely capital war crimes and crimes against humanity is a continuing sore point among Ukrainians. It is likely that as conditions between Moscow and Kyiv deteriorate, this question is one that will be asked by more rather than fewer people.




Putin’s Collapse Could Spark Russia’s Violent Disintegration, Kasparov Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 28 – Speaking in Kyiv yesterday, Russian opposition leader Garri Kasparov said that the collapse of Vladimir Putin’s regime could spark the disintegration of the Russian Federation and that that in turn would likely be far more dangerous and explosive than was the end of the USSR.


            Kasparov said it is impossible to know when the Putin regime will collapse because “the life of dictators does not fall under the law of a biological cycle.”  But Putin’s demise, he argued, “in the course of the next five to ten years” could lead to the disintegration of Russia” (


            It could occur suddenly if those in his immediate entourage decide that he is more a burden than a defense, the opposition figure suggested, adding that “if Putin thinks that he has immunity from the laws of history, then he is mistaken.”  At the same time, Kasparov said, “the agony [of Putin’s regime] could last quite a long time.”


            “I would not count on an immediate collapse,” he said. Moscow’s resources are far from exhausted, the economy has not collapsed, and there are no clear challengers yet. “The authorities still control the entire information space, and in the absence of an organized opposition, I would not wait for some kind of explosion” at least in the near term.


            But over five to ten years, the regime could certainly collapse, and if that happened, Kasparov said, one “quite probably scenario” would involve its collapse being followed by the disintegration of Russia, something that would entail far more dangers than did the falling apart of the USSR.


            “Unlike in the former Soviet Union,” he said, “there are no administratively recognized borders.”  The union republic borders were, but “inside Russia there are no such borders.” Consequently, “no one knows where Chechnya ends” and a Yugoslav-type conflict likely could not be averted.


            Kasparov concluded that the best way to avoid having Russia disappear in the wake of the Putin dictatorship would be for Putin to depart the scene as soon as possible. The longer he remains in power, the opposition figure says, the greater the chances that Russia will not be able to stay in one piece.


            Kasparov’s argument requires at least three comments. First, he is simply wrong that the union republic borders were forever fixed and agreed upon as opposed to the borders of the autonomies within the Russian Federation. Both were changed frequently in Soviet times, and the former were and are not where everyone wanted but where the West insisted they remain.


            Second, his argument that Putin’s departure could mean the end of Russia echoes many of the views of those in the regime as well as in the Russian population abroad that as bad as Putin may be, his remaining in office is essential to keeping Russia together, something most of them very much want.


            But third, Kasparov’s suggestion that the Russian Federation will be more at risk of disintegration the longer Putin stays not only contradicts that but suggests that in his view Putin’s Russian nationalist integration strategy is having exactly the opposite impact on the non-Russian portion of the country than he hopes.


            The combination of the three puts those who want to keep Russia in its current borders in a difficult position: If they support Putin in order to do so, they risk having him continue to act in ways that mean when he does go, as the actuarial tables at the very least require, the disintegration of Russia will be both greater and more violent than might otherwise be the case.


Putin Targets All Russian Nationalists He Doesn’t Control, Dyomushkin Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 28 – In a democracy, it is sometimes said, anything that isn’t prohibited is permitted; in an authoritarian country, anything that isn’t permitted is prohibited; but in a totalitarian country, anything that is permitted is compulsory.  By that standard, Vladimir Putin’s Russia is moving rapidly from the second to the third category.


            Fresh evidence for that comes from what may strike many as an unusual source: Dmitry Dyomushkin, a Russian nationalist who heads the “Russians” ethno-political movement, who says that now one can love the powers that be only in the manner that the powers themselves want (


            The Kremlin is so obsessed with control, he told two Kavkazskaya politika interviewers, that it is now persecuting with searches and arrests even those who support it but who are not under its total and complete control, actions which in his view undermine the interests of the state and of Russia as a whole.


            At the present time, Dyomushkin says, “the Kremlin simply persecutes nationalists, and the force structures threaten them independent of the position of the nationalist on any particular question [such as Ukraine]. You can even glorify Putin, but this is no guarantee that you won’t be arrested or treated illegally. One must love Putin only with permission.”


            The Russian nationalist activist was recently subjected to the eighth search of his residence and person by the security agencies, one that involved 12 officers and lasted seven hours.  They found nothing because “what could be found after seven earlier searches had taken place?” It was simply a form of harassment, he says.


            Dyomushkin says that he has filed a complaint about this with the authorities but that he doesn’t expect any reaction. He has done so, he suggests, only because he does not want the authorities to subsequently say that he has not done so. Instead, he believes his best defense is speaking about what is going on with the media.


            Obviously, the authorities would like to recruit him or other Russian nationalists as a source, and the searches are one way to put pressure on them.  But now officials are stepping up their efforts and have told him that if he remains recalcitrant, they will send him to prison or the camps for ten to 15 years.  In the current environment, that is hardly surprising, he says.


            Asked if these threats have made him think about emigrating, Dyomushkin says that he has no plans to do so: “this is my country, my motherland, and as an Orthodox Christian, it is appropriate to suffer for one’s convictions and ideas.” Moreover, he continues, he is confident he has done nothing wrong even if they imprison or kill him.


            There is “only one means” of opposing what  the powers that be are doing in this regard, he says: “to be open and public,” to give interviews, because “the more I tell the media what the FSB officers are demanding,” then for some time at least they will stay away, although they “don’t like publicity.”


            What the Kremlin is after is total control. It is not selective as far as which independent Russian nationalists it attacks. Both those who support what Moscow is doing in Ukraine and those who oppose it and both those who have good relations with Ramzan Kadyrov and those who don’t have been subject to official harassment, Dyomushkin says.


            Indeed, it appears, he concludes, that what the authorities are most worried about it any indication that “Russian nationalists are seeking to establish relations with diasporas and republics and thus be in a position to act independently.”


Friday, March 27, 2015

By Obsessing about Economics, Russian Liberals have Failed to Focus on Need to Change Political System, Melikh Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 27 -- The tragedy of Russian liberals and hence of Russia as a whole is that the former have made economic issues the primary factor and have not offered “any significant reforms of the political system,” despite its distance from “the standards of liberal democracy,” according to Anastiya Melikh, a student at St. Petersburg State University.

            Unlike liberalism in Western Europe and elsewhere, she writes in a commentary for, Russian liberals have failed to put “personal freedoms, human rights and equality of opportunity” at the center of their programs (


            Instead, “the Russian variant of liberalism” since the term acquired popularity in the 1990s has based itself “on the dogma of the primacy not of political and personal freedoms but rather on those of a market economy and private property,” a reflection of several factors but something that has especially serious consequences now.


            On the one hand, many of Russia’s first liberals had been “former instructors of Marxist political economy,” a background that makes their “economic determinism” at least understandable. And on the other, many in the West who proclaimed the triumph of democracy in 1991 focused their attention and efforts more on the economy than on the political system.


            Such a focus has been disastrous in Russia where “not economics, based on the export of raw materials, but “the authoritarian state-legal system” remains the most serious problem. Of course, liberal opposition figures have been upset about corruption, injustice and so on, but they have not addressed the fundamental task of transforming Russia from a prison into a free society.


            In the current economic crisis, it is clear that something is not right with the policy of the government and that reforms are needed and needed now, she continues. “It is obvious that the current authorities are already incapable of that, but the liberal opposition is not now in a position to propose any alternatives.”


            Some suggest that the lack of this in liberal discourse in Russia today is “only temporary,” a product of the fact that liberal parties have been for so long and are now so far from “the levers of power.”  Consequently, what Russian liberals talk about is how to gain power rather than how to transform the authoritarian state.”


            That means that most of the time, they are left discussing one of two paths forward: either waiting for the end of the rule of “’the tsar,’” or trying to organize a political revolution, like “the Ukrainian Maidan of 2004.  A consideration of both alternatives does not give grounds for optimism that Russian liberals will achieve what liberalism says it wants.


            In the case of the first path, given Russia’s authoritarian traditions, “if Putin won’t be around, there another ‘little father tsar’ will appear, prepared by the system and imposed on society,” without much prospect for democratization, Melikh says.


            And in the case of the second, there is no guarantee that it will be “a velvet revolution” or that the act of revolution will not lead to a situation of even greater authoritarianism. Consequently, instead of debating which of these will happen to liberals and to Russia, liberals should be talking about the kind of political changes that are needed for Russians to take control of their fate as liberalism requires.



Moscow Overplayed Its Hand in Gagauz Vote Undermining Its Position, Parliamentarian Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 27 – Moscow’s interference in the Gagauz bashkan elections was so blatant that even a Barbie or matryoshka doll could have won, according to Ivan Burgudji, but its suggestion that anyone who didn’t vote for Moscow’s preferred candidate is anti-Russian and anti-Putin has left the overwhelmingly pro-Moscow Gagauz deeply divided.


Overcoming that division is likely to be difficult, the Gagauz parliamentarian says, as is recouping another consequence of Irina Vlah’s “victory.” Her election means she must give up her seat in the Moldovan parliament and that will give the pro-European faction there the votes it needs to continue its pro-European approach (


Reflecting the overwhelmingly pro-Russian position of the Gagauz population, he continues, “not one of the candidates for bashkan” as the president of that republic is known “struggled or wanted to struggle with the Russian Federation.” If Moscow had run a pro-Russian doll, she would have been elected if the others were against Russia.


            But that is not what Moscow and its allies among the Moldovan socialists chose to do. Instead, in an extremely “short-sighted way,” they repeatedly accused all of Vlah’s opponensts of being “’enemies of Russia and Putin,’” false charges that were disseminated by Moscow television and ones that have left many Gagauz confused and angry.


            “I am afraid,” Burgudji says, “that it will be practically impossible in the near term to overcome” what is as a result “the divided Gagauz society.” And he argues that if an anti-Russian trend arises in Gagauzia, “Moscow itself and its Moldovan partners will be guilty” of having caused it.


            The only positive aspect of these elections, he says, was the enormous attention Gagauzia received in the Russian media and hence from media around the world. “Not every region of even the Russian Federation itself” gets so much attention. But that is “the only positive thing” one can say.


            As others have already pointed out, the campaign and voting were marked by numerous violations and the open use of administrative measures.  Those are so serious that the courts should throw out the results and call for new elections beginning with the nomination of new candidates and proceeding through a campaign to a new vote.


            Whether that will happen, of course, depends on whether law or “revolutionary expedience” in Moscow, Chisinau or Comrat has the upper hand.  Burgudji doesn’t sound optimistic, and consequently, the Gagauz vote is likely to continue to cause problems in all three capitals.

Like Stalin, Putin Makes Fascists Feel ‘Right at Home’ in His ‘Reich,’ Portnikov Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 27 – Some Russians explain the holding of a conference in St. Petersburg of fascists from around the world by suggesting that those are the only supporters Vladimir Putin can find in much the same way they excuse Stalin for becoming an ally with Hitler via the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.


            That is part of the truth, Vitaly Portnikov says; but it is not all of it. Instead, both with Stalin in 1939 and with Putin today, Moscow and foreign fascists feel like blood brothers, a reflection of the fact that “the USSR was a Reich and the Reich was the USSR” in Stalin’s times, a commonality Putin has restored (


            “Stalin had many friends abroad,” the Kyiv commentator points out, including the entire Communist International, leftwing intellectuals of Europe and the United States, and so on who were ready to sing his praises both because they believed in “the bright future” of communism and because they were afraid of Hitler.


            The Soviet dictator thus had a choice, and he “chose Hitler and ‘a friendship sealed in blood’ not because he was afraid of an attack by the Reich and wanted to win time for preparations for war as supporters of the leader even now say but because he saw in Hitler a fellow spirit.”


            When Hitler’s foreign minister von Ribbentrop visited the Kremlin, he said that he “felt himself there as among old party comrades.” And Stalin had the same reaction: “he saw that national socialism is the natural and logical continuation of Soviet socialism and that there was nothing that could scare him away from the insane ideology of the Reich.”


            Hitler had nothing on Stalin in terms of horrors: they were as “similar as two drops of water.  And thus, Portnikov says, “Stalin became Hitler’s ally by conviction and his enemy in spite of that because of the megalomania of the Berlin madman.”  And the Soviet leader showed that in another way as well.


            As soon as Stalin “together with the civilized world” had defeated Hitler, the commentator continues, the Kremlin leader began to erect “on the ruins of his own country and the space it had conquered a new Reich.”


            “Putin and his entourage are simply continuing this construction albeit in a smaller scale,” he writes.  The Lubyanka contingent “does not know how to build anything except a Reich because the NKVD and the Gestapo as a rule adopted on occupied territories one and the same buildings and thoroughly copied each other’s methods.”


            “Of course,” Portnikov concedes, “Putin and his entourage think more about money and less about ideology just as Stalin thought less about ideology and more about power. It is possible that for Hitler ideology was of the essence while for Stalin or Putin, it is only a cover.”


But that is of secondary importance given how much blood both spilled and how “neither Stalin’s Soviet Union nor Putin’s Russia can offer its residents any other ideology except hatred to the rest of the world.” Consequently, “the neo-Nazis come to Russia not because of a misconception but because here they are at home.”


Indeed, since the time of Hitler’s suicide and Mussolini’s execution, “Russia is now the only country in which worshipers of fascism in all its forms can feel comfortable,” something Putin has made possible and by which he has “insulted” not only the memory of those who fought Hitler 70 years ago but also the lives of Russians today.

Moscow Faces Obstacles in Deepening Its Involvement with Ethnic Russians in Latvia

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 27 – An appeal to the Russian Duma by the leader of a non-citizens NGO in Latvia is the tip of the iceberg of Moscow’s increasing involvement with ethnic Russians in that Baltic republic, a worrisome development in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s “hybrid war” in Ukraine but one that may not work given divisions within that community.


            Many ethnic Russians have become citizens of Latvia over the last 20 years, and even those who haven’t are overwhelmingly loyal to Riga, viewing Latvia’s European choice as beneficial to themselves and their children. (See “Ethnic Russians in Baltic Countries ‘Love Russia but Don’t Consider It Their Home,’ New Study Finds” (December 24, 1914) at


            Nonetheless, Moscow officials, together with a few ethnic Russian activists in Latvia, have been seeking to exacerbate ethnic tensions both in Latvia as a whole and in Latgale in a transparent effort to set the stage for a Kremlin move against Latvia. (See “Moscow Using Russian Organizations to Destabilize Latvia, Riga Officials Say” (March 9, 2015) at


            Now, this Russian government effort has assumed an even more official and thus threatening form. Yesterday, the Russian State Duma held a roundtable on the problems of non-citizens in Latvia and Estonia, at which Alexander Gaponenko, head of the Latvian NGO “Parliament of the Unrepresented” asked for Moscow’s help (


            “We need help in the fight” against Riga, he said. “We can make noise and shout, but we need judicial assistance,” Gaponenko said, and addressing Aleksey Pushkov, chairman of the Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee, he added “we would accept your help with pleasure.” Gaponenko’s colleague, Elizaveta Krivtsova, said that “our main goal is that the institute of mass non-citizenship in Latvia should be eliminated by any legal means.”


            The Russian government apparently has decided to focus on the non-citizens, not only because it is convinced that among them are its most likely supporters but also because the existence of that category of people is not widely understood or approved of among many in the West.


            Moscow’s arguments to the contrary notwithstanding, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were occupied countries between 1940 and 1991, and under international law, they were not obligated to extend automatic citizenship to those moved in by the occupier, in that case the Soviet Union, during that period.


            Were international law indifferent to this issue, any occupier could simply move in enough of its own people to transform the demographic and hence political realities on the ground and then invoke “democratic” principles to insist that its occupation was entirely legitimate and must be respected.


            What the three Baltic countries have done is to make it possible for those moved in by the Soviet occupation to become citizens with varying degrees of ease, guaranteed their rights as a community including the right to travel abroad, and allowed them to organize and press their case. Not surprisingly, many “non-citizens” are not the angry movement Moscow would like.


            And that presents Moscow with a real problem, one addressed today by Viktor Gushchin, coordinator of the pro-Russian Council of Public Organizations of Latvia, in an article entitled “Is the Russian Community of Latvia Capable of Overcoming Its Ideological Crisis?” (


            Many ethnic Russians in Latvia actively supported that country’s recovery of its independence, and they assumed that the post-Soviet government in Riga would extend citizenship to all residents. But that did not happen because a centerpiece of Latvia’s national existence is that it had been occupied and was never just another Soviet republic.


            Many Russian speakers, a broader category than non-citizens, have opposed the closing of Russian-language schools and the increasing use of Latvian in the country’s public space, seeing it as a threat to their community, Gushchin continues.  But the two overlapping groups, he says, have had little success against Riga’s policies.


            Since the 2012 referendum on language, he says, “no new idea which would unite the Russian-language community has been advanced.” Consequently, one can “today speak about a certain ideological crisis in the Russian democratic movement of Latvia” and even of a lack of unity of understanding among its members of what is taking place.


             According to Gushchin, “there is no unity in the assessment of the political processes in the country or of the political parties which pretend to express the opinion of the Russian language community;” and there is a sense among any that “the interests of the organizations of Russian compatriots” and “the interests of the Russian language community as a whole are not one and the same thing.”


            Indeed, he says, “there is an obvious paradox.”  Most organizations of Russian compatriots back the Russian Union of Latvia, despite its inability to elect anyone nationally or locally, while the Accord Democratic Party, which doesn’t do much to support Russian rights, nonetheless gets the most votes from Russian speakers.


            Gushchin identifies three sources of what he calls “the ideological crisis of the Russian language community of Latvia.” First, Russian organizations have not been successful in representing the interests of Russian speakers, thus leading to apathy and disorganization in their ranks. Instead, highly dissatisfied Russians in Latvia are choosing to emigrate.


            Second, “both the Russian language community and the political parties which represent its interests” are not “sound” on the issue of whether Latvia was occupied or not.  Many accept the Latvian version of reality rather than the Russian one, even though Riga continues to build “an ethnocratic and neo-Nazi state.”


            And third, these problems in the Russian language community of Latvia have been exacerbated by the policies of the West and those of Russia as well, Gushchin says. The West has failed to demand that Latvia live according to democratic principles, while Moscow has said the rights things but failed to bring pressure to bear.


            Even today, the Russian activist says, Moscow has not fully escaped from the foreign policies of the Yeltsin presidency and gone no further than making declarations.  “Such an approach not only essentially weakens the human rights activity” of Russian organizations in Latvia “but at the same time strengthens the positions of the ruling nationalist elite.”


            It is possible to overcome this situation, Gushchin insists, and he suggests that Moscow should exploit what he says is widespread support for Russia’s annexation of Crimea and military moves in the Donbas to unite the Russian speakers of Latvia and to put pressure on Riga to treat them correctly.


            Moscow needs to support the Russian speakers of Latvia in this way, the activist continues, because if they come together, they can be sure that the Riga government will do everything to oppose “any consolidation of Russians of Latvia, since even the smallest move toward the democratization of the state will represent a mortal threat” to the Latvian regime.