Monday, May 25, 2015

Ukrainian Conflict is between ‘Heirs of Kievan Rus’ and ‘Heirs of Golden Horde,’ Piontkovsky Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, May 25 – “The Ukrainian-Russian conflict is to a significant degree a conflict between the heirs of Kievan Rus [Ukraine] and the heirs of the Golden Horde” [Moscow], according to Andrey Piontkovsky, and one of its key results will be “an intensification of the swallowing of Russia by China.”


            In the course of a wide-ranging interview yesterday with Artem Dekhtyarenko of Ukraine’s Apostrophe news agency, the Russian commentator argues that it is a mistake to see what is taking place in Moscow as “a strengthening of the ties of Russia and China” (


            Instead, he argues, it is part of a long ongoing process that has accelerated in the course of the Ukrainian crisis of “the swallowing of Russia by China.” At the recent Victory Day parade in Moscow, something “symbolic” happened that had never occurred “in the thousand year history of Russia:” three units of the Chinese military took part.


            “For the Chinese who devote enormous importance to symbols,” Piontkovsky says, “this was as it were a parade of their victory” because it represented “a foretaste of their complete victory over Russia.”


            A year ago, the Chinese clearly signaled that this is how they view things: Beijing’s prime minister told a gathering in St. Petersburg that “you have big territories, and we have many Chinese workers. Let’s unite these resources for the strengthening of our common economic potential.”


            The Chinese had never permitted themselves to express such notions so boldly, the Russian analyst continues; but it is clear that they now have “complete confidence that having cut itself off from Western civilization, Putin’s Russia will become an easy catch” for Beijing.


             That is all the more so, Piontkovsky continues, because there are influential people in Russia itself who “welcome this process” because they “consider the Golden Horde to have been the golden age of Russian history.” Thus, “the swallowing of Russia by China is a return to its deepest historical roots.”


            Those who think in this way have a certain measure of truth on their side, the Russian commentator concludes, and that in turn means that the current conflict between Ukraine and Russia is “to a significant degree” a conflict between the two states these two countries emerged from, Kievan Rus in the case of Ukraine and the Golden Horde in the case of Russia.



Putinism is What the White Russians Might Have Implemented Had They Won, Pastukhov

Paul Goble
            Staunton, May 25 – Given the recrudescence of Soviet institutions in the Russian-occupied Crimea and Donbas, ever more people are playing the game of “what if” – “what if” the August 1991 putsch or October 1993 clash in Moscow had ended another way or “what if” the anti-Bolshevik White Russians had defeated Lenin and returned to power.
            In a commentary today, Boris Pastukhov, a Russian historian at St. Antony’s College in Oxford, says that such an approach to history is not very profitable most of the time but that if one engages in it now, it is far more useful to think about “what ifs” in the case of Moscow than in the case of the Donbas (
            That is because, he suggests, a kind of alternative history has “already been partially realized” under Vladimir Putin, allowing one to suggest that in certain respects at least, Putinism can be understood as “the victory of the White Movement,” more than 90 years after it suffered what seemed to all intents and purposes its complete loss.
             So much ink has been spilled on what Russia might have looked like had the Whites won, Pastukhov says, first among emigres and then among Russians at home after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  But now there are some real reasons for taking seriously the idea that we can now see the outlines in life itself of what that victory might have meant.
            Imagine for a minute, the historian says, that “in October 1919, Yudenich had taken Petrograd. His victory would have allowed the consolidation of the actions of the White Armies and the formation of a White government which would have finally taken under its full control the territory of the former Empire (except some of its border parts).”
With that achievement, however, “the first – ‘heroic’ – part of history would have come to an end.”  And the new government would have been forced to confront the fact that its victory over Bolshevism had “solved only one of many problems.”  Pastukhov suggests that there would have been at least five:
  • First, with the empire dead and a lack of desire for the generals to remain in power, there would be the question of just what kind of a political system should and even could be erected in place of the old order.

  • Second, there would have emerged enormous administrative problems: “all organs of power would have been just as corrupt as before, workers would have been just as dissatisfied, the national minorities would have been just as oppressed, and inequality as before would have been enormous. There would have been too much centralism and too few skilled cadres.

  • Third, “the majority of the leaders of the movement who would have seized power earlier were not administrators of the first rank: many went from colonel to army general in only a few years” and few of them had any real understanding of how to rule a civilian population.

  • Fourth, “support from abroad would have stopped,” with both victors and vanquished focusing on their own problems rather than on Russia. Consequently, the new regime would have been largely on its own.

  • And fifth, that regime would have been lacked the forces necessary to recover the Baltic states “and certain other of its territories ‘from time immemorial,’ including possibly Ukraine. And there would have begun active democratic transformations,” changes that would have echoed in Russia itself.
“Under recently, it would have been possible only to guess how the counterrevolutionary government of ‘the victors’ would have responded to all these challenges.”  But now, observing what Putin is doing, one can very likely see the outlines of what it would have done as well., the historian suggests.
According to Pastukhov, “the flag of Putin’s Russia should be not the white-blue-red” it has adopted “but simply red and white because its ideological foundation is a combination of two counterrevolutions, the Bolshevik and the anti-Bolshevik,” a pattern that goes a long way to explain “the paradoxical quality of contemporary Russian policies.”
One can debate for a long time why the Soviet system failed, but there can be now doubt that at least for some decades, “the red movement successfully realized its counterrevolutionary plan,” first by sacrificing to others what it did not have the strength to hold and then rebuilding that strength and taking most of what it wanted back.
           Would the White Movement have been similarly able to do so remains a mystery, Pastukhov says.  But now there may be a test of that: “the hypothetic ‘white counterrevolution’ has found its embodiment in ‘the red counterrevolution,’ and the alternative scenario which lost a century ago has become a real political scenario for Russia of the 21st century.”
            “One needn’t waste time on reconstruction,” Pastukhov says. “turn on the television and study the course of alternative history.”
            That development, he suggests, raises “the curious question” about what is likely to be the fate of today’s Russian political emigres: will they be future “’Lenins’” who will return and take power, or will they be “a second edition of ‘the white emigration,’ whose nostalgic dreams remained just that?”

The Kremlin’s Top 5 ‘Propaganda Myths, Fakes and Stupidities of the Week’

Paul Goble


            Staunton, May 25 – Dmitry Bukovsky of Kyiv’s “Delovaya stolitsa” continues his series, “The Top 5 Propaganda Myths, Fakes and Stupidities of the Kremlin for the Week.”  And this week, Russia has really outdone itself with the very top item being a claim that Vladimir Putin was either Prince Vladimir who baptized Kievan Rus or the Apostle Paul in a past life.


            The five Bukovsky has selected out of the Kremlin’s news feed this week include the following (


  1. How Many Past Lives has Putin Had?  Russians have a long history of portraying their current leaders as wonder-working icons. In recent months, some have portrayed Stalin as a saint in this way. But now, a certain Mother Fotinya, the head of a sectarian group in Nizhny Novgorod, has taken the next step: She says that in “one of his past lives, Putin was Prince Vladimir and baptized Russia” and that he has returned to “baptize anew our pagan land.”  Earlier she declared that Putin in another past life had been the Apostle Paul (
  2. Soviet Pioneer Movement Reborn in Occupied Territories.  On May 19, the occupation authorities in Makeyevka solemnly revived the Pioneers, the Soviet youth movement, with Soviet, Russian and Donetsk Peoples Republic flags flying, a monument to Putin standing by, and with speakers proclaiming that these children “unlike in Ukraine are not fighting their own history” (
  3. Not a Week without a Crucifixion. Devotees of Moscow propaganda would undoubtedly be disappointed if their media sources did not report on yet more horrific killings by “Ukrainian punitive detachments.”  This week for their delectation, Moscow offered a picture of the supposed killing of a militant and his “’pregnant wife.’”  But even Russian commentators recognized that the whole thing had been staged and had never occurred (
  4. Everyone Can Speak with Russian POWs in Ukraine -- Except Of Course Moscow.  The same day Moscow complained Ukrainian officials had failed to give Russian diplomats access to Russian soldiers held by Kyiv (, one of these soldiers, Yevgeny Yerofeyev told Russian journalists that everyone has come to see him: representatives of the UN, the Red Cross, and the OSCE. “All have asked whether I am alive and well and whether I’m being given treatment. All have come,” he said, “except the embassy of Russia” (
  5. There Must Be American Soldiers in Ukraine. Although Moscow continues to deny that there are any Russian soldiers in Ukraine, its media have gone out of their way to point to what they say is evidence of an American military presence there. This week, Vladimir Putin’s favorite news source,, reported that a group of more than 40 Americans from a private security firm had arrived in Ukraine as the first wave of a veritable invasion.  There was no truth to the story but that didn’t prevent Moscow from putting it out with imaginary details or from using this report to muddy the waters (


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Moscow Can’t Maintain Current Levels of Military Spending for Much Longer, Guriyev Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, May 24 – The Russian government cannot afford to maintain its current levels of military spending for long because its shift of resources to the military sector is threatening the rest of the Russian economy and because its reserve fund will be insufficient to pay for this spending for more than another year or two, according to Sergey Guriyev.


            Guriyev, currently an economics professor at the Sciences Po in Paris and earlier the rector of the Russian School of Economics in Moscow, says that experts have known this for some time but that the Kremlin has gone ahead anyway, something that opens the way for radical shocks ahead (


            The Russian government’s original budget for 2015 was based on the assumption that oil would be 100 US dollars a barrel, that Russia’s GDP would grow two percent, and that inflation would not exceed five percent, he notes. None of those things has proven to be the case; and the government has cut overall spending by approximately eight percent.


            “Nevertheless,” he continues, that has not prevented the government deficit from ballooning from 0.5 percent of GDP to 3.7 percent, “a serious problem” even though Russia’s sovereign debt forms “only 13 percent of GDP” because the Ukrainian war has increased spending and Western sanctions have made it harder to borrow.


            As a result, Moscow has been forced to dip into its reserve fund. That fund currently amounts to six percent of GDP. Consequently, if the deficit continues at 3.7 percent, the Russian government will run out of money in about two years, forcing it either to withdraw from Ukraine in order to end the sanctions regime or change its budgets in fundamental ways.


            Both steps would entail “major political risks for Putin,” Guriyev says.


            But in fact, the economist continues, that kind of train wreck may happen far sooner. During the first three months of this year, he point out, Russia’s military spending exceeded nine percent of GDP – or “twice more than planned.” If that level of spending continues, Russia’s reserve fund will be “exhausted before the end of the year.”


            That military spending is eating up the reserve fund is the result of Russian decisions made four years ago, Guriyev says. At that time, the government proposed increasing defense spending from three to more than four percent of GDP, something Finance Minister Aleksey Kudrin suggested was impossible. He was summarily fired and that is what the Kremlin seeks.


            According to Guriyev, “the goal of the Kremlin turned out to be unbelievably ambitious both by Russian and by word standards.” Most European countries are not spending more than two percent of GDP on defense; the US spends 3.5 percent, and only nine countries in the entire world are now spending more than four percent.


            Russia “simply is not in a position” to spend that way for long, the economist says. Moreover, its defense industry isn’t capable of modernizing that quickly. And that suggests that the Kremlin is less interested in that than in supplying its forces in Ukraine, something that could set the stage for a new attack in the coming months.


            Or alternatively, Guriyev continues, it could simply be an indication that the Ukrainian war is costing Putin far more than he counted on and that he will have to find a way out.


            Whatever proves to be the case, he concludes, “Kudrin’s economic logic today is even more just than it was on the day he was fired. If Russia in favorable times couldn’t allow itself to spend up to four percent of GDP on defense,” then it certainly can’t at a time when oil prices have collapsed and Western sanctions have been imposed.




Which of Many Russian Languages Defines Putin’s Russia World?

Paul Goble


            Staunton, May 24 – Vladimir Putin insists that the unity of the Russian nation and the basis of what he calls “the Russian world” depends on the Russian language, but there are “various Russian languages,” Oleg Panfilov points out, thus prompting the question: which of these can Putin in fact use to define his nation and the world?


            Panfilov, a professor at Tbilisi’s Ilya State University and the former director of the Moscow Center for Extreme Journalism, says that the reason there are so many Russian languages is that the one used “depends on the moral situation of society, or part of society, or on the authorities” (


            “Thirty years ago, Soviet people spoke in public in the language of Marxism-Leninism and among themselves with curses. Now, they speak publicly largely in a jargon and among themselves in a strange mix of the language of Soviet offices and jargon,” Panfilov suggests. But that doesn’t answer the question as to which Russian Putin’s “Russian world” will speak.


            According to the Russian professor, “there were always several languages,” reflecting the different circumstances people found themselves in, their position in society, their geography and their background. He notes that he learned to speak classical Russian because he grew up in Tajikistan to which so many educated Russians had been exiled.


            “The quality of contemporary Russian resembles the quality of the production of Russian industry,” he continues. It isn’t high, and many people prefer to use something else especially given that today “it is the language of the lies of Putin, Medvedev, Duma deputies, bureaucrats and journalists,” and “has become a unique argot of ‘the Russian world.’”


            Panfilov notes that he has met many Russian speakers in various countries, some of whom have never lived in Russia or done so only long ago. The Russian they speak is “an entirely different Russian, one in which there is no place for curses” despite the frequency of the use of such words among Russians in Russia.


            Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine in particular avoid the language of curses, even in the east where Putin is trying to create his “’Russian world.’”  They see the use of such words which Russians in Putin’s Russia view as completely normal as totally unacceptable, the same attitude of most peoples in Central Asia and the Caucasus.


            In the Kremlin, Panfilov continues, “they have considered Russian for a long time as an ideological weapon” and have sought to impose their Russian on others not only without success but at the cost of alienating those who speak another Russian language from them but who do not want the world that Putin’s Russian reflects.


            In Soviet times, Moscow attempted to destroy many of the non-Russian languages of the country. The attitude behind that approach continues, Panfilov argues. But neither what the Soviets did nor what Putin is doing has made Russian competitive with English or French. Indeed, this approach has had exactly the opposite effect.


            “As long as Russia remains the language of aggression and conquest, its prospects to become popular will become ever less,” Panfilov says, noting that “in Georgia young people already almost do not speak Russian: there is no desire to speak the language of the occupiers of Abkhazia and ‘South Osetia’ just as in Ukraine ever more ethnic Russians speak Ukrainian for the same reason.”


            In the case of other countries and languages, there is a very different pattern. In Pakistan and India, there is respect for the language of the former colonial powers, as there is in Africa for French, he notes. But that is because there “language is simply a mechanism of communication and not a political lever.”


            Today, it remains unclear “why in the Kremlin they simply cannot understand that to impose Russia with the help of arms is impossible and contradicts good sense.” Moreover, the language that Putin and company are imposing in this way is not classical Russian but rather “a parody on Russian” that few will want to learn or use.




Narva is Not Next, Kasekamp Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 24 – Since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and its continuing subversion of other parts of Ukraine, many have asked whether one or another of the Baltic countries might be Vladimir Putin’s next target, given that his strategic goal is clearly the breaking apart of Europe and the United States and discrediting or even destroying NATO.


            That lies behind the question, “Are you prepared to die for Narva?” a reference to the predominantly ethnic Russian city on Estonia’s eastern border, a city some have suggested Putin might seek to occupy temporarily or permanently and thus a possible flashpoint in a post-Ukraine world.


            And Andres Kasekamp, a political scientist at the University of Tartu, argues in an essay for the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute that there are compelling reasons to think that Narva will not be Putin’s next target, reasons that reflect how different Estonia is from Ukraine (


            Although Russia has engaged in expanded military activity in three Baltic Sea region and although “at first glance there might be some superficial similarities” between Ukraine and NATO, Kasekamp points out, there are a large number of “clearly more significant” differences between the two.


            Estonia, like her two Baltic neighbors, is a member of NATO and the EU, thus any action against them would have “immeasurably graver consequences. Moreover, “the success of the Crimean operation depended on surprise, the existence of Russian bases on Ukrainian territory and the defection of Ukrainian officers, and “a unique post-revolutionary situation” in Ukraine.


            Moreover, Moscow was able to exploit a situation in which “the border with Russia in eastern Ukraine was lengthy, porous, and weakly guarded.” None of those things is true in the Estonian case, Kasekamp says. And Estonia not only has “a state capacity to respond immediately” to any Russian challenge but a commitment based on experiences that it must “always offer military resistance.”


            Additionally and importantly, the Estonian political analyst argues, “Hybrid war is not something new for the Baltic states. They have already experienced elements of hybrid war - cyberattacks, economic pressure, disinformation campaigns. Even the Soviet-sponsored failed Communist insurrection of 1924 in Estonia had many common   features   with   events   in   2014,   as   did   the   Soviet   annexation   in   1940.”


            No Russian move against Estonia would allow Russia “the deniability of direct military involvement” it has exploited in the case of Ukraine. And “there is no historical territorial bone of contention” like Crimea. “Narva has always indisputably belonged to Estonia,” Kasekamp points out. And “even Putin understands that Estonia … is a completely distinct nation,” something he does not believe Ukraine to be.


            But the crux of arguments that Putin might move against Estonia or her Baltic neighbors, especially Latvia, involves the ethnic factor. “Putin has justified aggression against Ukraine with the need to ‘protect’ Russian speakers” and pointed to the better economic conditions in Russia as compared to Ukraine.


            Neither of these factors works for Moscow in the Estonian case, Kasekamp points out. Few Russian speakers in Estonia, even those who support Moscow’s occupation of Crimea, have any interest in becoming part of Russia themselves. They know how much better off they are in an EU country than are the Russians in Ivangorod and Pskov, two extremely poor areas.


            Instead of asking the Russian speakers of Estonia about how they feel about Crimea, it would be far more instructive, Kasekamp says, to ask “whether they would prefer rubes to euros … the Russian health care system to the Estonian one … [or giving up] the right to freely travel and work within the EU.”


            “There is a sharp contrast between Estonian and Russian-speakers on support for NATO and perception of a threat from Moscow,” he acknowledges, but he points out that “there is little difference” between the two groups “regarding the will to defend their country.”


            After Estonia recovered its independence in 1991, many believed that the ethnic Russian minority there would be integrated over time, that “Soviet nostalgia would fade with the passing of the older generation.”  That has not happened as quickly and thoroughly as such people had expected.


            In part, that is because “Russia has instrumentalized its ‘compatriots’ in order to under societal integration and to maintain a sense of grievance and marginalization,” an effort that reflects Moscow’s use of Russian television in order to ensure that “most Estonians and Russophones live in separate information spaces.”


            But that is not the irresistible force that many assume, Kasekamp says, noting that “the Baltic states were among those who proposed that the EU take countermeasures” And Estonia itself has “decided to fund a new Russian language TV channel – not to provide counter-propaganda but to strengthen the identity of the local community.”


            For all these reasons, he concludes, Narva is not next.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

The EU Eastern Partnership has Failed as a ‘Buffer Zone,’ Portnikov Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, May 23 – The EU’s Eastern Partnership program has proven incapable of being a buffer zone between Europe and Russia and must be radically reformed or scrapped altogether given that for foreseeable future, Moscow will dominate those states in the east which are not fully part of the European Union itself, according to Vitaly Portnikov.


            That is clear from what has taken place at the Riga conference of EU Eastern Partnership countries, he argues, even if “none of the participants of the program have the courage to say that ‘the Eastern Partnership’ has simply exhausted itself … as a compromise of Russia,” something else its organizers “never admit” (


            Officials of the EU like to compare the Eastern Partnership program with the one they devised for the countries of the Maghreb.  But there is one obvious difference between the two: “cooperation with the countries of the Maghreb was thought up as cooperation with the countries of the Maghreb. The ‘Eastern Partnership’ was thought up as a compromise with Russia.”


            Those who designed the Eastern Partnership “searched for a form of cooperation with former Soviet republics would which allow for the formation on EU borders of a civilized marketplace and at the same time preserve as inviolable those links these countries have with the Russian Federation.”


            That explains why Brussels was “never particularly agitated” about the level of democracy in the partnership countries. Instead, the EU focused on developing a free market and lowering the level of corruption. That made it acceptable to Moscow and thus allowed the EU to assume that it always would be – at least as long as none of its members could ever join the EU.


            But when the Eastern Partnership, in line with the Maghreb countries, moved to “the next stage of its development with the signing of association agreements,” Moscow “considered this as a demonstrative interference in the interests and integration plans of Russia,” something Vladimir Putin has not concealed from everything.


            Today, within the Eastern Partnership, there are “two groups of countries: one, including Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova who have signed and want to join the EU eventually; and a second, including Belarus and Armenia, which haven’t and don’t. (Azerbaijan is an outlier and tries not to be in one or the other, although it won’t be able to do that for long.)


            And that pattern, Portnikov continues, allows for “one simple conclusion:  the program as a compromise with Russia has not worked out. There has not been and is not now any ‘buffer zone’ between the European Union and Russia.” In the immediate future, “whether the Europeans or Russians like it or not,” the border between Europe and Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union will be the eastern border of states in the EU.


            Consequently, the Riga summit is likely to be “one of the last, at least in the current format.” And the EU is going to have to pursue deeper relations with those who want to join and much less deep relations with those who don’t.  It can no longer put off making a decision about that, Portnikov suggests.


            “Yes, it is possible,” he says, “that the process of integration will last decades” and resemble that of Turkey, “but at the very least, the illusion of ‘a buffer zone’ is disappearing forever. And then, as in the Maghreb, ‘the Eastern Partnership will become a partnership with the participant countries and not an attempt at compromise with another third country.”