Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russians Scrambling to Explain Why People in Eastern Ukraine Haven’t Flocked to Secessionist Banners


Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 29 – As the Ukrainian military closes in on Moscow-backed forces in southeastern Ukraine, Russian commentators are scrambling to explain why the Russian-speaking population in that region have not flocked to the banners of the secessionists in Donetsk and Luhansk.

            Not surprisingly, these commentators have not focused on the facts that the population there overwhelmingly now identifies as Ukrainians and has no interest in becoming part of the Russian Federation, but what they are saying says a lot about how Moscow is trying to explain away its own miscalculation about the support it would receive.

            The “Voennoye obozreniye” portal, which is directed at Russian military and patriotic groups, today re-posed a Russian blogger’s list of “the seven reasons why men in the Donbas don’t want to fight in the ranks of the militants” (topwar.ru/55137-sem-prichin-pochemu-muzhchiny-donbassa-ne-hotyat-voevat.html from politichanka.livejournal.com/178167.html).

On the basis of a visit to the region, the blogger whose screen name is Politchanka lists the following reasons:
  1. “The absence of an authoritative leader among the militants,” including the fact that most of those in prominent positions are not local but from Russia and Moscow. Many people there, she says, “do not like Muscovites.”
     
  2. “The negative example of the ‘heavenly hundred,’” a memory of the deaths of more than 100 people in the Maidan which suggests that fighting at the risk of the loss of one’s own life may be pointless. “In the opinion of the Donetsk people, only fools fight and die for some idea; smart people survive and vacation in Crimea.”
     
  3. “Marauding and extortion.” People have been put off, Politchanka continues, by the theft of automobiles by unidentified people and the fact that the authorities are incapable of doing anything about this.
     
  4. “The militants do not defend the cities.” The militants defend their own houses; but when Ukrainian forces attack the towns, they “depart” for somewhere quiet, something others cannot do.
     
  5. “Internal splits.”  “It is no secret,” she writes, that the leaders are constantly fighting among themselves about who is the most important. That puts people off.
     
  6. “The inability of the militants to maintain normal everyday infrastructure in the city.” Stores, schools and hospitals are closed, and “people do not see any prospects.” As a result, “they aren’t joining the ranks of the militants.”
     
  7. “The lack of correspondence between the expectations the referendum sparked and reality.”  People in Donetsk and Luhansk hoped everything would be as it was in Crimea. “No one told them that they would be bombed and have to sit in basements without having the opportunity even to eat normally.  “Therefore they do not want to fight.”
     
    Politchanka says that she draws these conclusions not just from her conversations with people in Donetsk but also from online discussions. Unless those in charge of the situation in southeastern Ukraine address these problems, she said, “the level of support in the population” for the militants will fall geometrically.”
     



Window on Eurasia: Pre-History of ‘Donetsk Republic’ Goes Back Almost a Decade


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, July 29 – Most commentaries assume that the Moscow-backed secessionist “
Donetsk Republic” arose in response to the Maidan at the end of last year and the beginning of this, but in fact, Sobkorr.ru reports, an online group promoting that idea appeared on Russian Vkontakte pages as early as 2008 (sobkorr.ru/infopovod/53D607F597C40.html).

 

            That pre-history is important for two reasons. On the one hand, it lends support to those who argue that Vladimir Putin began planning for his aggression in Ukraine at the time of his war against Georgia, calculating that the limited Western response to his actions there opened the way for a move against Ukraine.

 

            And on the other, it highlights the need to monitor such groups elsewhere because such online communities may be an important way for the Russian security agencies to identify and recruit those they would like to use in the future and even to assess how much of an opportunity for Moscow any particular one presents.

 

            The Sobkorr.ru site reports that in 2009, the online group claimed to have about 100 members, although it is far from clear how many of them were simply followers and how many were deeply committed. And it says, a survey by the group at that time found that at least some of them had arms.

 

            According to the news portal, at that time, those taking part in the “Donetsk Republic” Vkontakte page were divided between those who wanted to create an autonomous republic within Ukraine and those who wanted to unite with Russia.

 

            Even before the site went up, prosecutors in Donetsk in 2007 opened a criminal case against several pro-Donetsk activists charging that the latter were seeking to seize power and threaten the territorial integrity of Ukraine (sites.google.com/site/donrespublika/doneckaa-respublika). Four of those charged were sentenced to jail terms of from two to five years.

 

            The “Donetsk Republic” Internet group was active between 2008 and February 2010 when Viktor Yanukovich replaced Viktor Yushchenko as president of Ukraine. It then re-emerged in the winter of 2013 and now numbers 60,000 members. But the news portal stresses that some of those involved now were involved earlier as well, including Andrey Purgin who became “vice prime minister” of the self-proclaimed republic.

 

            Yanukovich, while he was Ukrainian prime minister in 2006, had spoken out against the idea of a Donetsk Republic saying that “this movement will not be supported in any part of our state,” according to Sobkorr.ru.

 

Window on Eurasia: Internet Alone Won’t Transform Russians into Opponents of Regime

Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, July 29 – Many in Moscow and the West, seeing the ways in which Russian television has mobilized Russians in support of Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, believe that the Internet can transform Russians into opponents of the Kremlin. But the editors of “Nezavisimaya gazeta” warn today that the web on its own doesn’t and won’t have that effect.

 

                That Moscow television plays a key role in structuring Russian views about Moscow’s policies in Ukraine is beyond question. Ninety-four percent say that they rely on it for news and information about events there, and 74 percent say they believe Russian media are giving “an objective picture” of the situation (ng.ru/politics/2014-07-29/3_soldier.html).

 

            Aleksey Gorbachev, a political commentator for “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” cites a Levada Center poll showing that 64 percent of those surveyed blame the West for the war in Ukraine, 20 percent blame Kyiv, but “only three percent say that the civil war in the Donbas is the result of the interference of Russia.”

 

            Even though there are good reasons to suspect these figures – given the climate of fear in Russia under Putin, ever more people are reluctant to say what they think if it differs with the opinion of the bosses – many opponents of the Kremlin’s policies in both Russia and the West are placing their hopes in the Internet.

 

            That is not surprising given that anyone who wants to can get an entirely different perspective on what is going on in Ukraine and elsewhere from websites, including Russian-language ones.  But the existence of such resources by themselves, the editors of “Nezavisimaya gazeta” say, won’t necessarily change opinions let alone make people into opponents of Putin’s policies (ng.ru/editorial/2014-07-29/2_red.html).

 

            It is absolutely true, the paper says, that “the Internet makes various kinds of information accessible,” but that “does not mean that the information automatically becomes more sought after” or accepted. “Soviet power banned books and films,” but that didn’t mean people did not want to watch them. Now, these are widely available, but that doesn’t mean people do.

 

            Consequently, it is wrong to think that the existence of the Internet or even widespread access to it will “make an opposition member out of a citizen or even make that individual skeptical of what the authorities are saying.”  The only thing that will do that is a critical attitude toward information, something reflecting background, intellect and education.

 

            “On his own, the Internet user is in no way defended against the official point of view, including when it is expressed in the most primitive propagandistic forms,” the editors of the Moscow paper say.  And the authorities are not only prepared to be far more clever in how they present their positions but also to be a player in the online world.

 

Russians can learn from the Internet much that the authorities would prefer they not learn, but a large share of them are not interested in doing or, if they do get information from the Internet, in relying on it as opposed to what they hear on television.  Up to now, the Internet is simply “not competitive” with Moscow television in that regard.

 

 

 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Window on Eurasia: More than 19,000 Tajiks have De-Russianized Their Names Already in 2014


Paul Goble

 

Staunton, July 28 – More than 19,000 residents of Tajikistan have de-Russianized their names so far this year, dropping the “–ov” or “–ev” endings that had been de rigueur in Soviet times, according to Rustom Shohmurod, that Central Asian country’s minister of justice (news.tj/ru/news/v-tadzhikistane-s-nachala-goda-smenili-svoi-rusifitsirovannye-familii-svyshe-19-tys-chelovek).

 

The current effort to restore Tajik spellings began following the publication of an article in “Jumhuriyat” by Sherhon Salimzoda, the procurator of the republic, who complained that many Tajik citizens were still using or had restored the Russian versions of their names and families because of problems they had experienced while working in the Russian Federation.

 

He said that Tajiks should be proud of their national names and spelling and that there was no reason for them to make changes.  His article at least initially led Tajik officials to restore their national names. The new report this week suggests that campaign is now spreading to the population at large.

 

            And following Salimzoda’s article, Gavhar Sharofzoda, the head of the Tajik State Committee on Language and Terminology, declared that “avoiding Russian suffixes in family names is ‘the national responsibility of each citizen of Tajikistan.’”

 

            Tajikistan’s president Emomali Rahmon dropped the “-ov” from his name in 2007. His decision to do so led other Tajiks to follow at that time. But, as the Asia Plus news agency points out in its current report, “after a certain time, [Tajiks] began returning from Russia and were again using their former [Soviet or Russian-style] family names.”

 

            It seems unlikely that there will be a similar reversal this time. More than that, the very massiveness of this return to national rather than Russianized names may serve as an example not only across Central Asia but inside the Russian Federation as well.

 

 

Window on Eurasia: Russia Today at Greater Risk of Falling Apart than Ukraine Is, Losev Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, July 28 – Moscow commentators like to talk about the existence of “two, three or even more Ukraines” and to argue that Ukraine will disintegrate, Igor Losev says, but the reality is that there are far more “Russias” than that and that the Russian Federation is thus at far greater risk of falling apart.

 

            In a commentary entitled, “The Spectre of a Return of ‘the Parade of Sovereignties’ is Stalking Through Russia,” the Ukrainian commentator says that this has less to do with the ethnic diversity than with the Russian regionalism and the Moscow’s hyper-centralization (tyzhden.ua/World/113653 and, in Russian, novaukraina.org/news/urn:news:D22DE8).

 

            The Russian state, he points out, includes “a large quantity of very different territories which are art of it largely as a result of conquest and expansion.” They have few horizontal ties and are only very weakly “connected with each other.” Instead, they are held together “only by a vertical tie with the center of the empire.”

           

In Soviet times, the union republics “could work only through the center and under its control” because “direct integration inter-republic processes were blocked by Moscow.” Now, the center has been doing the same thing with “any independent regional integration projects.” As a result, the problems of the regions can only be addressed in Moscow.

           

Russia today, Losev continues, “is not a federation but a mono-centric, harsh and unitary state, despite all the federalist dressing. There not only the heads of oblasts but even the presidents of republics are appointed by the Moscow center, [and] the empire is united by financial tranches … and military-police structures.”

           

Vladimir Putin has if anything made this situation even worse, he suggests.  He created seven federal districts which are in many respects “the Russian Federation in miniature: they have all the outward signs of statehood” but no real power, a situation that could entail “certain consequences.” 

 

Indeed, the Ukrainian analyst argues, “the federal districts very much recall the former Soviet republics” about which “one sovietologist said at the time: ‘the union republics have all the markers of independent states who have lost their independence’” -- or alternatively had not yet achieved that status and who see the center is getting everything from the sale of their natural resources while having none of its own.

 

“The current super-centralism of the Russian pseudo-confederation” is the product of a centuries’ long struggle by the center over the periphery, a struggle so intense that one might think that no local feelings or sense of distinctiveness existed any longer. But that is definitely not the case, Losev says.

 

In fact, he continues, at every point in Russian history, such feelings “have a tendency to regenerate; and memory about the glorious independent past awakens in the hearts of millions of Russians and then  arises anew the spectre of Russian separatism of an anti-imperial direction.”

 

“In many regions of the Russian Federation whose population consists primarily of ethnic Russians, above all the donor regions, people want to live a full life” rather than being a supporter of Moscow and to feel themselves “as it were a separate and different nation or even race.”

 

            Not for nothing, Losev says, “certain Russian journalists joke: ‘And just 100 kilometers from Moscow and you are already in Russia.”

 

            Siberians say it is time to “stop feeding Moscow, and people in the Far East remember the Far Eastern Republic. Residents of both resident the center’s niggling regulation of their lives, its exploitation of their natural resources, and its diktat on issues like whether or not they can use Japanese cars with the steering wheel on the right.

 

            The situation is more obvious in the non-Russian autonomies, “because they do not have any real autonomy even in the most intimate national-cultural questions.” The Kazan Tatars aren’t allowed to use the Latin script for their language, something they want to do, only because Moscow says no.

 

            And Moscow’s actions in this regard are causing ever more Kazan Tatars to think about the fact that their statehood in the form of the Bulgar kingdom “existed long before” Moscow ever appeared on the map.  And the neighbors of the Kazan Tatars in the Middle Volga – the Chuvash, the Mordvins, the Mari, the Udmurts, and the Komis “despite russification,” feel the same.

 

            The North Caucasus also has experienced “a civilizational incompatibility” with Russia, “intensified by the trauma of the Caucasian wars of the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries,” Losev points out. The deported nations and others, including the Tuvins who hada state until 1944, feel the same.

 

            And the Cossacks, whom many Russians refuse to accept as an independent people, now want “if not to separate [from Russia] at the very least want to distance themselves from Russia.”  Moscow’s exploitation of the Cossacks as now in eastern Ukraine has as one of its purposes the destruction of as many Cossacks as possible.

 

            The “conglomerate” that is Russia is held together by force but is always at risk in the case of “the first military defeat of a deep social-economic crisis.” And it is trapped because it cannot survive if it does not expand, but it will die if it tries to do so because it will cease to be able to develop in a positive and modern direction.

 

 

 

Window on Eurasia: Russian Businesses Aren’t Working with Russian Researchers, Moscow Study Finds


Paul Goble
 

            Staunton, July 28 – Russian businesses have little interest in working with Russian researchers in universities and institutes, an attitude that precludes “the innovative development of the economy,” according to scholars at the Moscow Institute for Statistic Research and Economic Knowledge.

 

            The experience of other countries shows that “close and effective interaction between enterprises of the real sector of the economy and universities which support the processes of the creation, transmission, acquisition and introduction of new knowledge and technologies” is an absolute requirement for a modern economy (opec.ru/1729087.html).

 

            But a survey the institute conducted in 2,000 Russian enterprises in the industrial and service sectors and in more than 1,000 scientific organizations found that “interest in the enterprises of the real sector of the economy for cooperation with scientific organizations is very weak in Russia.”

 

            More than three out of four of those working in businesses said they “never used scientific-technical results obtained by national scientific research institutions and higher educational institutions” in their work. And even those who said they did overwhelmingly indicated that they used only the finished products of research and development rather than being involved in the process as is typical of businesses and academic institutions elsewhere.

 

            According to scholars at the institute, “the rapprochement of science and business” is blocked by the lack of money and the resulting risks of making any change, testimony, the scholars say, to “the difficult financial situation of the enterprises and the national economy as a whole.”

 

            In addition, the scholars said, this lack of cooperation reflected “an insufficient evel of preparation of scientific-technical results for practical application, the high level of competition from foreign products, the lack of qualified cadres, and the underdevelopment of innovation infrastructure.”

 

Window on Eurasia: Putin Now Insuring Himself against Nationalists Returning from Ukraine, Ikhlov Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, July 28 – Vladimir Putin is ensuring himself ideologically against a nationalist challenge to himself if Russian militants fighting in Ukraine are forced to return to the Russian Federation where their popularity among many Russians, thanks to the Kremlin’s earlier ideological effort, remains extremely high, according to Yevgeny Ikhlov.

 

            The Moscow commentator says that this latest Putin  shift recalls Stalin’s turn against those who fled Spain after fighting in that country’s civil war in the 1930s. But he implies that Putin’s change may not work as well because what Putin is doing in fact resembles what might have happened had Nicholas II disowned the Serbs rather gone to war on their behalf in 1914 (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=53D41102325FC).

 

            While Ikhlov uses the term “change of monuments” to describe Putin’s ideological shift, he makes it clear that this change so far has in fact been one of nuance rather than clear-cut because the Kremlin leader is still faced with the task of balancing the concerns of the various factions and alliances within his regime.

 

            In a crisis, he says, the regime can form one of three “social-political coalitions:” “Putin and ‘the romantics from the party of power together with supporters of the ‘Russian world’ against liberal westernizers,” “Putin and ‘the realists’ from the party of power with the moderate westernizers against the supporters of the ‘Russian world,’” or “Russian nationalists and liberals against the party of power.”

 

            In March and April, Ikhlov says, one saw “the formation of the first alliance.” It might be called ‘the Crimean’ one. But in over the last month, Putin has clearly moved toward ‘a change of monuments’” and has put in place the basis for the formation of the second possible alliance, that between him, the realists, and the moderate westernizers against the Russian world people.

 

            That second coalition, the Moscow commentator continues, presupposes as well a promise “’not to tighten the screws,’” and Putin has at least nodded in this direction by not having a longer sentence imposed on Udaltsov and Razvozhayev on charges of preparing a revolution, something for which Stalin would have had them shot.

 

            Naturally, Putin “is seeking to give the westernizers as little as possible while receiving from them as much as possible – not only rejection of harsh criticism of the Kremlin” for the Ukrainian “adventure” but also from the kind of condemnation “liberals conducted” against Russian nationalists in the past.

 

            “Today it is not so important which of the liberals will agree to this trade and how large the bonuses they will receive,” Ikhlov argues, “as it is how quickly and in what proportion the democrat-westernizers will show themselves ready for an unspoken union with Putin.”

 

            “Significantly more important” in the new ideological framework Putin is promoting, Ikhlov continues, is the idea that the “heavily armed” insurgents in Eastern Ukraine “from now on will be decalred in Russia the main threat to internal stability in Russia because of their super-dangerous ‘radicalism.’”

 

            Ikhlov says that Putin has already opened “a second police front” against the Russian Spring by having Sergey Shergunov, a writer who “illegally” crossed into Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine interrogated. This is “only the first swallow in the new struggle with ‘radicalism.’”

 

            Indeed, the Moscow commentator suggests, this action is an echo of Stalin’s execution of fighters returning from Spain because he knew very well that “they brought not only the experience of battles with the Germans and Italians but also the viruses of an ideological infection under the name of ‘free communism.’”

 

            “One can understand [Putin’s] logic if one starts from the fact that the ‘Novorossiya’ project was directed not against the past Ukrainian revolution but against the dawning Russian one.” That project left the liberals “paralyzed” because of the nationalist “hysteria,” and it allowed Putin to identify those who were “too active Russian nationalists” and thus a threat.

 

            The most immediate victims of this shift by Putin, of course, are likely to be those who pushed for the escalation of the Ukrainian crisis in the hopes of “driving Putin into a counter from which he would have only one way out – the introduction of ‘a limited peacekeeping contingent’ into the Donbas and the open declaration of a cold war against the West.”