Friday, August 29, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Military Review Lists Seven ‘Probable’ Targets in ‘Novorossiya’

Paul Goble


            Staunton, August 29 – “Voyennoye obozreniye,” an online Moscow journal directed at the Russian military and military analysts, has published today  list of seven targets Russian forces are likely to attack in the course of what it describes as “the probable future of the war for Novorossiya.”


            Of course, which ones the Kremlin and Russian commanders will attack and in what order depends not only on Ukrainian resistance but also on the reaction of the West to Moscow’s moves. But this list itself says something about the nature and scope of Vladimir Putin’s intentions in Ukraine (


            While the fighting in eastern Ukraine is intense and while not everything is going well for Russian and pro-Moscow forces, the post suggests that it is nonetheless possible to speak about “major breakouts” as it describes these actions or attacks as they would certainly be perceived by the Ukrainian side.


            The first target, the “Voyennoye obozreniye” article says, is Mariupol, where Ukrainian forces have concentrated themselves and from which they must be dislodged so that the insurgents can continue to be supplied by Russia.


            The second, it continues, is Volnovakha, again a site where Ukrainian forces are concentrated and one that represents a potential “place des armes for cutting off the Azov group of forces from the main ones.


            The third is Donetsk and especially the airport there which currently is in Ukrainian hands. “The enemy must be driven out of well-fortified places where it has already been sitting for two to three months,” the Moscow publication says.


            The fourth target is Debaltsevo which must be taken by a flanking operation in order to destroy “the lion’s share” of Ukrainian artillery and thus defeat the Ukrainian forces in the region as a whole.


            The fifth is the Lisichansk-Rubezhnoye-Severodonetsk area, a naturally defendable position which the Moscow journal says Ukrainian forces have been fortifying in the course of recent weeks and from which they must be driven.


            The sixth is Luhansk and the areas around it to relieve pressure on the insurgents there.  And the seventh and perhaps most important are efforts to prevent Ukraine from bringing reserves into play by mobilizing the population. The journal implied that military attacks must be coordinated with the requirements of information war in this regard.


            In the immediate future, the publication says, there is going to be “a difficult struggle” for Novorossiya.” Indeed, it says, “what is taking place now can be compared with the historic battle near Moscow” during World War II.  But just like with that battle, it says, pro-Russian forces can change the course of this war.


            And Moscow’s “Voyennoye obozreniye” concludes that the insurgents can look forward to a better future if they do. Those forces, it says, “need [only] resist for a couple more months, and then the forces of the [Ukrainian] junta will become” a much less serious problem for Novorossiya and Russia as well.




Window on Eurasia: Putin Commits Himself to ‘Novorossiya’

Paul Goble


            Staunton, August 29 – Given how often Vladimir Putin lies, it may be a mistake to make too much of any of his statements as an indication of where he is heading. But his use of the term “Novorossiya” in his statement yesterday, the first time he has talked about that space within Ukraine as a contemporary issue, is worrisome.


            That is because it suggests that the Kremlin leader is doubling down on his invasion of Ukraine and plans to create a Transdniestria-like “partially recognized state” and “frozen conflict” in a large swath of southeastern Ukraine regardless of Ukrainian and international opposition to his aggression.


            According to Ekho Moskvy journalist Vladimir Varfolomeyev, a search of the records of Putin’s official statements shows that Putin has used the term “Novorossiya” only once before, in the course of his conversation with Russian citizens, and did so explicitly in terms of history rather than current events (


            On that earlier occasion, Putin said that Novorossiya included Kharkov, Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, Nikolayev and Odessa, areas that he said “were not included within Ukraine in tsarist times” but “handed over to Ukraine in the 1920s by the Soviet government.  Why they did this, God alone knows,” the Kremlin leader said.


            But as a result of that Soviet action, the “victories of Potemkin and Catherine II” were ignored and Novorossiya disappeared. “For various reasons, these territories disappeared,” Putin said, but the people there remained.”


            (Although the Ekho Moskvy commentator does not point this out and Putin certainly does not stress, tsarist Russia was not divided into ethnic republics. There were Ukrainians and Georgians and Uzbeks, among others, but there as not a Ukraine or a Georgia or an Uzbekistan as an officially recognized entity.)


            Now, as Varfolomeyev points out, unlike in his Putin’s April remarks, “’Novorossiya’ has been transformed from a subject of historical interest into a subject of policy. If of course,” the Ekho Moskvy commentator adds, “words today still have any meaning,” given Putin’s cavalier treatment of the truth.


            Other Moscow commentators are also discussing the meaning of Putin’s attachment to the idea of “Novorossiya.”  One of the most thoughtful observations is provided by Vitaly Portnikov, who suggests that Putin sees Novorossiya as something he can seize and then create the kind of state he wants more generally (


            The Moscow commentator says that Putin in some ways is like Stalin but in other ways is not. Like Stalin, he works at night at least when it comes to Ukraine, but he does this not because he prefers to sleep during the day as Stalin did, Portnikov says, but rather “simply because then Obama isn’t sleeping.”


            But unlike Stalin, he continues, Putin didn’t take Russia away from his rivals but was handed it by his predecessor in order to save it. Novorossiya offers Putin a chance to seize something and thus make it his own in the way that Stalin made Soviet Russia his own via collectivization, the purges and war.


            “Therefore,” Portnikov says, “for Putin, the first real country is not Russia but Novorossiya. He has taken it out of the hands of its own population and is now creating it according to his own image,” one that involves a situation in which “it is possible to shot, kill and torture without punishment.”


            “It is certain,” the commentator continues, that Putin “already feels himself president of both these countries … enormous Russia” which he did not seize earlier and “little Novorossiya” which he is in the process of taking and in which he is showing exactly what kind of a regime he would like to extend to Russia.


            But Portnikov says, Putin is mistaken in this. “In Russia he really is president,” but “in Novorossiya, he is a night porter.”  And “there where in battles and tortures is being creating the ideal Putinist Russia, he is not present.” But in some ways that makes his obsession with Novorossiya even more disturbing than as an occasion of military aggression.


            That is because, the commentator says, it shows exactly what he wants to do in Russia itself and in any other territories he can, like Stalin, “take away” from someone else.





Window on Eurasia: Russia Lacks Resources for Occupation of Eastern Ukraine, Moscow Military Expert Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, August 29 – The Russian military has the ability to seize Donetsk and Luhansk if no one provides assistance to Ukraine, Russian military affairs specialist Aleksandr Golts says, but he argues that Moscow “does not have the resources” it would need for “a full-scale occupation” of these and other Ukrainian regions.


            In an interview published by the Ukrainian news agency yesterday, Golts says that at the present time, he sees three possible variants as to how the military and security situation in southeastern Ukraine is likely to develop (


            The first would involve a Russian effort to address “certain tactical tasks” involved with providing assistance to separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk via the Azov Sea now that Ukrainian forces have reduced Moscow’s ability to supply them via other routes. In that event, he says, “Russian forces should be quickly withdrawn” once that goal has been achieved.


            The second variant, Golts says, would be an effort to occupy “not all of Donetsk and Luhansk oblast but rather the creation of a belt of security along the Russian-Ukrainian border approximately 10 to 15 kilometers from Donetsk to Azov” so that the Russian government would be in a position to support the separatists for a long time.


            That could be done by the troops available, but even in March 2014, when Russia had the largest number of forces along the border – some 80,000 men – the Russian general staff told the Kremlin that these forces alone “were insufficient for a full-scale invasion and seizure of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts.”  


            The third variant, Golts says, would involve a decision to “occupy all of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and create new borders.”  But if Putin were to take that decision, “the question arises:” with what forces would he do that?  There aren’t enough professional soldiers in the Russian military to do that, and he would have to use draftees.


            Using the latter, the Moscow military specialist says, would result in “an entirely different story.”  Such troops have “low levels of discipline, poor preparation and must be changed every six months,” characteristics that would make an occupation impossible even if the seizure of more Ukrainian territory could be achieved relatively quickly.




Window on Eurasia: Russian Invasion Underscores Putin’s Failure in Ukraine, MGIMO Professor Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, August 29 – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine highlights a reality many do not want to talk about: Vladimir Putin failed to be able to deal with Ukraine “via softer measures” because of the steadfastness and resistance of the Ukrainians and consequently was forced to send in regular Russian army units, according to Andrey Zubov.


            Zubov, an MGIMO professor who has attracted attention for his open, even withering criticism of Putin’s policies, says that the Russian invasion is thus “an enormous success” by Ukraine because it has forced Putin to act in a way that he had hoped and expected to avoid (


            Putin thought he could achieve his goals in a way that would avoid new sanctions by the West by drawing on the support of separatists. But because of Ukrainian resistance, the situation did not develop in the ways that the Kremlin leader had hoped, thus forcing him to act in other ways.


            This is the second time Putin has had to change course, Zubov says. Earlier in August, he changed the leaderships in Donetsk and Luhansk when it became obvious that the regimes there could not block the Ukrainian advance. Now, even that has proved not to be enough, and he has had to send in regular army units.


            This shows, the Moscow foreign policy specialist says that the Kremlin leader’s “possibilities have been exhausted.” And Putin needs a new and quick victory for domestic reasons as well: at present, “dissatisfaction inside Russia is growing,” given the losses Russian forces have suffered. “All this puts the situation at the edge,” he says.


            Zubov does not say in this interview, although he has mentioned it elsewhere, that Putin’s real failure in Ukraine reflects his unwillingness or inability to understand that Ukrainians are a separate and distinct nation and that Ukraine is a separate and independent country.  The impressive Ukrainian resistance should have taught him and many others those basic truths.

Window on Eurasia: North Caucasian Nation Increasing in Number Even Though Its Language is Dying

Paul Goble


            Staunton, August 29 – For many peoples, the death of their languages marks the beginning of the end of their national existences. But for others, the death of the one does not affect the life of the other. Indeed, some nations become more vital and nationalistic only after they stop speaking what some of their members consider their “national” languages.


            In the West, the classic example of that latter pattern are the Irish who did not become nationalistic at least in the modern sense until almost all of its members stopped speaking Gaelic and spoke the English of their British occupiers. Now, another case of this may be emerging in the North Caucasus with the Osetians.


            Indeed, Zaur Karayev says, “the number of those who speak Osetian is sharply declining despite the fact that the number of Osetians is increasing.” According to the 2010 census, among the 705,000 residents of North Osetia, 450,000 identified as Osetians, while 370,000 said they spoke Osetian (


            And those numbers may understate the size of the problem not only because several thousand members of other nationalities living in the republic declare that they speak Osetian but also because the census relies on unverified declarations of knowledge, something that almost inevitably means that the number claiming knowledge is greater than the number having it.


            However that may be, Karayev says, Osetian is in trouble as a language even if the Osetians are surviving as a nation, and reflecting the former reality, UNESCO has included Osetian in its list of dying languages already for several years even though it remains under the terms of the republic constitution, a government language alongside Russian.


            Republic officials working with UNESCO experts have sought to reverse the slide in knowledge of the language by various means. Sometimes these are inadequately financed but they do exist. One that gives promise is the setting up of Osetian-language pre-schools so that very young Osetians will learn their national language before they learn Russian.


            That program has given sufficient promise that educators from Chechnya and Bashkortostan have adopted it for their republics, Karayev says. But the problems of the Osetian language have not been solved. Instead, as he found in a “sociological experiment” on the streets of Vladikavkaz, they are bad and appear to be getting worse.


            Karayev asked people he met whether they “knew” the Osetian language.  Thirty-six percent said they knew it fluently; 32 percent said they knew it well, 11 percent said they did not know more than a few phrases. “Not all of the respondents were Osetians,” he acknowledged.  But even these figures suggest that Osetians know their language much less well than official statistics suggest.


            Moreover, Karayev continues, the situation may soon get a lot worse.  The Russian Duma is about to take up legislation that would eliminate the requirement in the non-Russian republics that residents be required to study the language of the titular nationality. Many linguists from the republics have already warned about the disastrous consequences such a law would have.


            But even if it is not adopted, there are worrisome underlying trends at work that seem set to push Osetian language competence down even as the Osetian nation continues to grow in numbers.  Many parents simply don’t know Osetian well enough to pass it on to their children and see no reason to given that many Osetians will find their future outside of the republic.


            The declining use of the national language, however, may ultimately say little about the survival and attitudes of the Osetian nation. After all, Indian nationalism was promoted more by an English-speaking lawyer named Gandhi than any Hindi-speaking peasant. Indeed, the national movements in most former French and British colonies were led by those who had learned the language of empire.


            Whether that will prove to be the case with the Osetians remains unclear, but no one should write off a nation that continues to increase in numbers simply because it is losing one of its national attributes. Obviously for the Osetians as for other nations, the other characteristics continue to be more important – and ultimately lead to a rebirth of the language as well.





Thursday, August 28, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Buddhist Cossacks to Restore Tsarist-Era Unit to Fight in Ukraine

Paul Goble


            Staunton, August 28 – The traditionally Buddhist Kalmyks and ethnic Russians living among them have already sent numerous volunteers to fight for pro-Moscow groups in Ukraine, but now they propose to create an international Dzhungarian Regiment within the National Cossack Guard.


            As Kalmyk political expert Sanal Kuvakov told “Nezavisimaya gazeta’s” Andrey Serenko, the tsarist-era “80th Dzhungarian Kalmyk Regiment is well-known in Kalmyk history. It was one of the most capable military formations in which Kalmyk-Cossacks [ever] served” (


            “In 1920, fighters of the Dzhungarian Regiment under the commander of Colonel Tepkin stopped the First Cavalry Army of Budyonny which was attacking Novorossiisk and thereby gave units of the White Army and refugees to evacuate to Crimea and then to save themselves in emigration,” Kuvakov said.


            As Serenko makes clear, Cossacks both Buddhist and Russian from Kalmykia and both descendants of Cossacks and people who now say they are Cossacks have been fighting for the Russian-orchestrated Donetsk and Luhansk “republics” in Ukraine for some time, and at one level, restoring the Dzhungarian Regiment is simply a logical next step in that process.


            But there are three reasons why this development is more noteworthy than that summary might suggest. First, it highlights something Moscow and especially the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church doesn’t like to talk about: many Cossacks have roots outside of Russian Orthodoxy.


            Buddhists were prominent among them. Not only was there the Buddhist Cossack unit Kuvakov talks about, but the Trans-Baikal Cossacks were predominantly Buddhist at the end of Russian Imperial times. Over the last two decades, their leaders have sought to restore this proud religious tradition.


            Second, by invoking the name Dzhungarian, the Kalmyk Buddhist Cossacks are restoring something with far broader and deeper resonance than many may suspect. Dzhungaria was a region between Russia and China that was famously surveyed by a tsarist colonel who later became the first commander of the White Army in South Russia: Lavr Kornilov.


            Restoring that name suggests that the Buddhist Cossacks of Kalmykia see themselves as part of this broader tradition and thus are prepared to challenge the widely accepted view promoted by the Kremlin that the Cossacks are defenders of Orthodox Russia.  They may be defenders of the empire but not of Orthodoxy.


            And third, the restoration of this Buddhist Cossack unit casts doubt on the assumptions many in the West make about Cossacks as well. They embrace a far more diverse group of people than most who derive their perceptions of that community more from Hollywood than from reality currently think.


            The 13 different Cossack hosts, the various religious and ethnic traditions they represent, and the differences not only between hereditary Cossacks and neo-Cossacks but also between Cossacks who are organizing themselves and Cossacks being organized by the Russian authorities need to be recognized.


            Promoting such a recognition could in fact be the Dzhungarian Regiment’s most important contribution, far greater than anything its members may in fact do in support of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.





Window on Eurasia: Uyghurs Fleeing Xinjiang for Kazakhstan

Paul Goble


            Staunton, August 28 – As a result of China’s crackdown in Xinjiang, Uyghurs are fleeing to Kazakhstan and even re-identifying as ethnic Kazakhs once they get there, according to an appeal by ethnic Kazakhs in China who complain that Astana has not proved equally welcoming to them.


            In an appeal to Kazakhstan Prime Minister Karim Masimov and other officials, the ethnic Kazakhs note that President Nursultan Nazarbayev had directed the foreign ministry to “create all conditions for the movement of ethnic Kazakhs from China to the Motherland” but that officials have not carried out his order (


            Ethnic Kazakhs in China face serious problems in obtaining visas not only because they are forced to travel long distances to reach the Kazakhstan consulate in Urumchi but also because consular officials not only do not deliver promised visas in a timely fashion but often are more inclined to give them to members of other national groups.


            “It is well-known,” the appeal says, “that among those asking for Kazakhstan visas are Uyghurs. Why can’t Kazakhs get to their ethnic Motherland?” That question is agitating many in Xinjiang especially since “information has appeared recently that Chinese citizens [of Uyghur nationality] are moving to Kazakhstan, changing their nationality and becoming Kazakhs.”


            On the one hand, this appeal may be little more than the complaints of some ethnic Kazakhs in Xinjiang about their inability to get visas. But on the other, it highlights the extent of Uyghur flight from Chinese oppression and the apparent willingness of Kazakhstan to give members of that nation visas and even citizenship when they seek it.

            This is only the latest instance of a lonstanding pattern: Uyghurs and Kazakhs over the last century have often moved between what is now the Republic of Kazakhstan and now China's Xinjiang Province, leaving the place where they face more oppression and moving to the one where they will face less.