Saturday, February 28, 2015

A New Crisis Breaks Out over the Fate of Lake Baikal

Paul Goble


            Staunton, February 28 – For most of the last generation, people in Eurasia and around the world have been on a death watch for the Aral Sea. That vigil is now over: the Aral Sea has died. But a serious new if quite different crisis has now broken out regarding Lake Baikal, relations between a Russian and a non-Russian federal subject and between Russia and Mongolia.


            Over the course of nearly the same period, Russian and international environmental activists have been concerned about the contamination of the world’s deepest lake by a cellulose factory on its shores. That problem isn’t over, but the new problems that precious body of water faces are also different and considerably more politically sensitive.


            The level of water in Lake Baikal has fallen to a level not seen in at least a century, largely because the rivers that feed the lake are putting significantly less water into it, because people are using ever more water from it, and because of a drought last year, Yekaterina Trofimova of “Russkaya planeta” says (


            Lake Baikal is fed by three major rivers, the Selenga, the Verkhnaya Angara and the Barguzin, and a large number of smaller ones. Most of these are in the Buryat Republic, with only one, the Angara, is the predominantly ethnic Russian Irkutsk oblast, and that division lies behind much but far from all of the current controversy.


            According to the Buryat government “and also many scholars and ecologists,” the drought is not a sufficient explanation of the current problem. It and they argue that the Angara hydroelectric dam is largely to blame and that Moscow has ignored the impact the falling water level has had on the environment, including leading to more peat fires in Buryatia.


            Irkutsk officials, including those responsible for the energy sector, respond that they are not to blame and say that they have maintained flows at levels set by the Yenisei Basin Water Administration of the Russian government’s water resources board – but they haven’t responded to objections that they should adjust the flow to take into account the drought.


            Moscow has now gotten involved. Three weeks ago, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev sought to push off the problem by issuing an order allowing the use of Baikal water by all concerned even though the lake has fallen to a new low level, but he said that this would be allowed only in 2015. What will happen next year is far from clear.


            So far, there have not been any real shortages for human and industrial consumption, a pattern that makes it more difficult for those who want to address the problem early on far more difficult. But many environmentalists and many political figures in Buryatia say that the appearance of such shortages is only a matter of time.


            The Irkutsk authorities and the Russian officials who operate the hydroelectric dam and other industries respond that Buryatia is complaining too much, that there are no real dangers, and that in fact, the proper response for Moscow is to eliminate the restrictions firms and the dam have been operating under since 2001.


            Indeed, the Russian officials and businessmen feel that they have an additional reason for that: the controversial cellulose plant which had been dumping so much waste into Lake Baikal has been closed. There thus should be more room for the development of other industries.  But if that happens, the amount of pollution going into the lake will rise again.


            Into this increasingly tense standoff between the Russian oblast and the Buryat republic has come a new player: Mongolia, which wants to gain energy independence from Russia by developing a hydroelectric station on the Selenga, “the main water artery of Baikal, providing half of its inflow.”


            Russian and international ecologists are currently seeking to have the World Bank refuse funding to Mongolia for such a project in order to block it, but Ulan Bator has some alternative possible sources of funding so that it may be able to go ahead even if that happens (


            Whatever happens in that regard, Lake Baikal seems set to become not only a source of discord between environmentalists and industrialists and between a Russian region and a Buryat republic but also between the Russian Federation and Mongolia – and standing behind Mongolia, China as well.



Russia, Ukraine and the Narcissism of Small Differences

Paul Goble


            Staunton, February 28 – Many people in Ukraine, Russia and elsewhere have wondered why two nations so closely linked by history and culture should have descended into such a vicious war, but they shouldn’t be surprised, Boris Grozovsky says, because peoples close to each other more likely to get involved in wars and to suffer more greatly from them.


            On, the deputy commentary editor of Moscow’s “Vedomosti” newspaper, says that such conflicts may be especially likely if “a culturally close people tried to change political institutions” in ways that threaten the political elite of the other (


            Grozovsky draws his conclusions from recent studies of conflicts around the world. He notes that Enrico Spolaore and Romain Wacziarg, two US-based scholars have concluded that closely related peoples are more likely to fight than any others under ceteris paribus conditions (


            The two offer a variety of explanations, including the fact that similar peoples often have a similar view of the world and thus any changes by one is felt with particular force by the other and even as a threat to its own order, especially if that one is not a democracy but rather a dictatorship.


            Cultural closeness often follows such genetic commonalities, other scholars have suggested. Harvard’s Akos Lada, for example, has shown on the basis of a study of wars over the past two centuries that a common cultural past often makes conflicts and war more likely (


            Grozovsky says that Lada’s conclusions are especially suggestive for the war between Russia and Ukraine because they were drawn before that war broke out and because Lada offers a variety of suggestions about wars in general that clearly appear to have specific application to the current one.


            “War harms borrowings in a double sense,” Lada says. On the one hand, “it physically destroys those who could become a model for emulation.” And on the other, “identity is a tricky thing: one cannot at the same time see in another persona an enemy and a model.” Instead, the situation is one of “either-or.”


            Consequently, “an authoritarian leader,” Grozovsky summarizes, by attacking someone who could be an institutional model, “simply ‘deactivates’ that identity which could respond by the borrowing of his successes.” And history shows that “a dictator with a good army will not wait while ‘a fraternal people’ succeeds” in living a life different than his own.


            Moreover, Lada writes, engaging in wars with such an enemy can reward the dictator at home: It can provide him with the justification for a crackdown against his own people in the name of national unity.


            The possibility of wars in general and wars of this kind in particular can be reduced by the spread of democracy and trade, and the linkage between these factors has been the subject of intense study and debate. (See, for example, the work of Seitz, Tarasov and Zakharenko at


            Both democracy and trade promote social well-being and those factor both directly and because they reduce tensions lead to a decline in military spending reinforce one another, the three found.  Wars have just the reverse impact by increasing military spending and harming growth.


            As Grozovsky puts it, “the gods of war and of economics definitely are not friends.” He cites the work of Stephane Auray et al, “Wars as Large Depreciation Shocks” in support of that contention. Their study is available at


             Finally, the Moscow commentator notes one other misfortune of such wars. Authoritarian rulers frequently develop repressive means that they extend from the front into their own countries, a phenomenon that has been studied by Christopher Coyne and Abigail Hall (


            Given all this, is there a way out of the war in Ukraine? Grozovsky asks.  He is clearly not optimistic.  He cites the work of Santiago Caicedo who has considered what conditions open the ways for successful peace agreements and what factors do not (


            According to the Chicago scholar, peace accords are more likely “when the leaders of the conflicting sides are forced to be concerned about the well-being of people … [when] the economic advantages of peaceful life are obviously greater than the losses from war [and when] the player which controls the small part of the territory is completely disarmed.”


            “These factors, especially considering the role of Russia in the Ukrainian events,” the Moscow editor says, “make the prospects for the development of both countries not too encouraging.”

If Moscow TV Said Putin was a Criminal, Russians Would Soon Agree, Panfilov Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, February 28 – Government-controlled television is such a dominant player in Russian life that if the TV didn’t show Putin for two weeks and in the third said he is a criminal who had unleashed war, the Russian people would say “yes, we are against Putin,” according to Oleg Panfilov, a specialist in information policy.


            In an extensive interview with Kyiv’s “Den’” newspaper, Panfilov, who organized Georgia’s counter-propaganda effort in 2008, discussed how this situation came to be and what its consequences are for the future not only of Russia but also of the countries around it (


            Boris Yeltsin had used some of the possibilities of information war in the 1990s, but the full exploitation of this arm came only with the rise of Vladimir Putin who within two years “was able to completely form a common television space like in the USSR, “one with a single view on reality.”


            To be sure, Panfilov continued, Putin left some “little windows” like Ekho Moskvy and Dozhd in the electronic media and “Novaya gazeta” and occasionally “Kommersant” in the print media, but only a miniscule percentage of Russians use them. The overwhelming majority rely on television alone. And Putin understands that perfectly, the expert said.


            Because of the dominance of television in Russia, Panfilov argued, “in Russia there is no such thing as sociological opinion. Poll results from there are not to be trusted: four of the five major polling agencies work for the government, and there is no freedom of information so people rarely have the chance to hear competing versions of reality.


            “Ninety percent of Russians receive their information from television,” he said. “So that if the information policy on television were to change, if for two weeks, TV didn’t show Putin and in the third said that he is a criminal who has unleashed several wars, the people would say, yes, we are against Putin.”


            The situation in Ukraine is entirely different, he continued.  There and especially among the young in Kyiv, people rely far less on television. In Russia, TV remains dominant not only because of “Soviet tradition” but because it is free and hard-pressed Russians are not inclined to spend money on alternatives.


            Speaking more generally, Panfilov said, “Russia is an artificial country, which was created as a result of wars of conquest.”  The same is true of what people call the Russian nation. It grew at a pace that was possible only by reclassifying others as Russians and their lands as Russia.  


            Thus, he argued, “the ethnonym ‘Russky’ is not a noun as is ‘Ukrainian,’ ‘Armenian,’ and ‘Georgian’ but rather an adjective.”


            Being an artificial country and nation is not necessarily a bad thing, he said. “There is in the world another artificial country – the United States – but it has a [national] idea, that of freedom and democracy. Russia does not have anything like that” but rather remains the product of “forcible mental assimilation.” 


            Consequently, “the salvation of Russia is in its collapse.” Not only the non-Russians within its borders must acquire freedom and independence but also many who are now called Russians but who are in fact different, such as the Siberians and the people of the Urals, must as well.  How this will happen is difficult to predict.


            Given the nature of this artificial country with its artificial nation, “it is completely useless to argue with them about something. This is a community of people who will never recognize anything,” Panfilov said. Instead, they steal from others and then claim it as their own. As such they are barbarians, something they regularly accuse others of being.


            Turning to the Ukrainian situation, Panfilov said that “in Ukraine there is a very poor state information policy. It should not look like Russian propaganda,” but it must take into account the situation in the country now. In Georgia, Russian propaganda failed because Tbilisi blocked Russian television and because many Georgians don’t speak Russian.


            Ukraine is different: there are many Russian speakers, and they are affected by Russian television. As a result, many are uncertain about what is going on because they hear Moscow’s version of reality and then only later hear the facts of the case. Kyiv must do more to get its message out given that Ukraine has been invaded and needs to be united, Panfilov said.


            Ukraine has fewer problems getting its message out abroad than many in Kyiv think. The reason such people think believe Ukraine is suffering there is that they get their information from Moscow sources and thus are inclined to think that people in the West are entirely on the side of Russia. That is simply not true. Most in the West back Ukraine as time will show.


            But both domestically and internationally, Ukraine does face one serious challenge that Georgie did not: the rise of Internet trolls and other web operations. Vladislav Surkov understand this and are using it to build on the experience they gained in the information war against Georgia in 2008.


            How long the information war will go on “depends on various factors, including the level of the stupidity of the population,” Panfilov concluded. But in the forms it is taking now, it is “possible only on the post-Soviet space and only from Russia against its neighbors.” Russia’s efforts wouldn’t work anywhere else, at least not for long, given alternative sources of news.


            But the impact of information war can sometimes be “very long” because “if weapons can kill only physically,” the expert said, propaganda and disinformation can “morally harm all at once several generations.”


‘Instead of a Maidan, the Donbas has Come to Moscow,’ Martynov Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, February 28 – The murder of Boris Nemtsov within sight of the Kremlin means that “instead of a Maidan,” against which Vladimir Putin has organized, “the Donbas has come” to Russia, a development that means “the little house of cards” that the Kremlin leader had been building has come crashing down, Kirill Martynov says.


            In an article in today’s “Novaya gazeta,” the commentator argues that “the murder has become the most significant act of political terror in the modern history of Russia” because “now it is fated to become the symbol of that country which we have been building for the last 15 years” (


            It is clear, Martynov says, that Nemtsov’s murder is “the continuation of that policy of hatred which has become the de facto standard in government mass media of Russia over the last year. ‘The fifth column’ and ‘national traitors’ must be punished, they have told us. And now this ‘punishment’ has occurred.”


“Regardless of who was the executioner, this blood is on the hands of all who wanted such ‘punishment,’ and who by their words and deeds brought it closer,” the “Novaya gazeta” commentator says.


            A few hours before Nemtsov was killed, NTV reported that it was looking into the way in which the March 1 protest represented an effort by him and others to “prepare a Russian Maidan … Only instead of a ‘Maidan,’ the Donbas came to Moscow,” in the form of bullets in his back, “the last political argument in the Russian Federation.”


            Over the last 15 years since Putin came to power, Martynov writes, “opposition figures have been attacked in the Internet” and on the streets and at their press conferences. Now, a line has been crossed, and they can be killed as well. And the Kremlin has created the conditions for this to happen.


            In recent months, the commentator continues, “the state willingly and openly has shared its monopoly on physical force by closing its eyes to the actions of organizations like the ‘Anti-Maidan,’” and thus showing that “the government does not intend to guarantee the security of citizens with ‘incorrect’ political views.”


            Until now, “there had been a quite severe prohibition against the murder of political opponents in Putin’s Russia,” Martynov says. But as of last night, those “prohibitions have fallen away,” and that represents “a point of no return and of the radical destabilization of the domestic situation in Russia.”


            It is “impossible” just now to predict what the consequences of this will be.  It is possible that the regime will use this murder as the occasion for a further crackdown against any independent action in society. There is a long tradition in Russia for doing exactly that, Martynov points out.


            But it is also possible that there will be a new rise of opposition activity. After all, the “Novaya gazeta”commentator says, “we recognize at last just how high the stakes are.”



Nemtsov Feared Putin Would Kill Him and Now the Kremlin Leader Has

Paul Goble


            Staunton, February 28 – Almost three weeks ago, Boris Nemtsov said that he feared that Vladimir Putin would kill him for his opposition activities, and last night, the Kremlin leader did, either by direct order which some are convinced is the most likely or by creating the barbarous climate in Russia which has made such crimes more possible as others do.


            On February 10, Nemtsov told “Sobesednik” that he had long feared that action but until that point had shared his fears only with his mother. Unfortunately, in recent weeks, the situation has deteriorated to the point, he suggested, that he “finally decided to talk about all this in public” (


            His mother, Nemtsov said at the time, “is categorically against what is taking place in Ukraine and considers that this is a catastrophe and a complete nightmare. But Putin agitates her more than Ukraine. Everytime when I call her, she says: ‘When are you going to stop cursing Putin? He will kill you!’”


            She was at that point “really afraid,” Nemtsov said, that Putin would kill him in the near future because of his statements and actions. “And this, I repeat, was no joke: she is an intelligent person. She very much fears this.”


            Nemtsov said then that he didn’t fear this possibility as much as his mother “but all the same … If I feared it very much then I would hardly be able to head an opposition party or be involved in what I am involved with.”  And in response to his interviewer’s hope that “good sense will triumph and Putin will not kill you,” Nemtsov said he hoped so too.


            Now, however, Nemtsov is dead, gunned down within sight of the Kremlin, and many are sure that Putin bears direct or indirect responsibility for this latest crime.  Igor Eidman notes that “now many are writing that Putin didn’t give the order … but is guilty because he released the genie of hatred out of the bottle and created an atmosphere of chauvinist hysteria”  (


But the Moscow commentator says that he is “certain that it was precisely Putin who in one form or another personally gave the order to kill Nemtsov.”  The Kremlin leader like the bandit he is could not bear Nemtsov’s characterization of him as “the great dictator” and his constant criticism of what Putin has done at home and abroad.


From Putin’s perspective, Eidman says, Nemtsov had thereby undermined Putin’s authority, something the Kremlin leader cannot tolerate. But there is a more immediate and practical reason why Putin killed him: Nemtsov was preparing a report on “Putin and the War” about the crimes of the Kremlin in Ukraine. Putin couldn’t allow that to appear.


            Few people especially inside  Russia are prepared to be that blunt. After all, in the current environment, they could become the next victims.  Instead, and Nemtsov’s fellow opposition leader Grigory Yavlinsky is typical of this, they prefer to speak about “political responsibility” rather than accusing Putin of this crime (


            Unfortunately, that reluctance, the natural response to the increasingly vicious nature of the Putin regime, plays right into the hands of how the Kremlin is dealing with this situation. On the one hand, it is putting out a variety of “versions” of the murder, confident that the media in its quest for “balance” and “responsibility,” will report them (


            That will allow Putin to avoid responsibility by muddying the waters, the same thing he has done with his crimes in the past, and almost inevitably mean that Western leaders instead of viewing this political murder as yet another reason to oppose Putin’s actions will avoid doing so, possibly in the continued name of not causing the Kremlin leader to “lose face.”


            And on the other hand, the Putin regime is doing what it can to prevent the murder of Nemtsov from sparking the kind of political protest Russian regimes historically have found difficult to cope with. The opposition wants to transform a protest march scheduled for tomorrow into a memorial march: Putin’s agents in the Moscow city government have already said no (

            The author of these lines had the privilege of meeting Boris Nemtsov. He was a truly great man, the kind of leader Russia needs to escape its past and become a better place. Now that he has been gunned down by those committed to taking Russia back to that past, we must honor his memory in the first instance by not allowing his murderers to evade responsibility.

Friday, February 27, 2015

What Stopped Putin in Georgia in 2008 Won’t Stop Him in Ukraine, Georgian Diplomat Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, February 27 – “Ukraine is where Georgia was six years ago, but Russia has been transformed into a second North Korea,” according to Sergi Kapanadze, a former Georgian diplomat and negotiator. As a result, what stopped Vladimir Putin in Georgia in 2008 won’t do so again in Ukraine, he says, but if Kyiv recognizes this, that alone will be enough for victory.


            Kapanadze, who served as Georgia’s deputy foreign minister for seven years, is currently in Kyiv to give lectures. In an interview with Olga Dukhnich of “Novoye vremya,” he compared the events of 2008 in Georgia with those in Ukraine now (


            The Georgian diplomat and academic said the Minsk agreements could have become a peace plan, but they did not include any mechanisms “which would guarantee peace” and they allowed Russia to continue to present itself as a non-participant in the conflict, thus allowing the militants to act for it but without the Kremlin having to take any responsibility.


            This is the kind of duplicitous diplomatic game Russian diplomats have long played and played with Georgia in 2008, Kapanadze said. Moscow’s diplomats always act this way, consider their country more powerful than it now is, and view “any compromise as a manifestation of weakness.” 


            They are thus obsessed with “saving face,” as Ukraine, Europe and the US fully understand, he continued. All have presented plans that would allow Moscow and Putin personally to do so. But that won’t work now because the situation is much more serious than in was seven years ago.


            “The Russia of 2008-2009 with which [Georgia] spoke has receded into the past,” Kapanadze said. “Then Moscow still was trying to preserve its face before the Western world, but now it is not even trying to do so.” The dividing line was the annexation of Crimea, and consequently, “the mechanisms which could stop Russia in Georgia do not work in Ukraine.”


            The only thing that remains, he said, is “the language of force,” something which includes both anything that will “intensify the economic crisis in Russia or strengthen the Ukrainian army.”


            Kapanade said Ukraine had made a mistake in not constantly talking about the Russian annexation of Crimea. It should be talking about that “constantly” because “if there hadn’t been Crimea, there would not have been the vents in the eastern portion of the country.” Unfortunately, Ukrainians and Western leaders find it easier to forget about Crimea.


            In other comments, the former Georgian diplomat said that the West has not provided arms because it fears that this could involve it more deeply in the conflict. Kapanadze also said that Georgians had made the mistake of agreeing to allow Russia to play the role of peacekeeper: Ukraine must learn from that mistake or it will lose everything.


            “If Russia is able to transform Ukraine into a failed state,” Kapanadze suggested, Georgia would be the next target of a similar campaign and Moscow would move to annex both Abkhazia and South Osetia and then move against the rest of Georgia as well. Thus, Georgia has a vital interest in the outcome of the struggle in Ukraine.



Putin Will Likely Attack a NATO Country Next, Portnikov Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, February 27 – Because Vladimir Putin seeks both recognition as the leader of a superpower and a new Yalta at which he and Western leaders will partition the world into spheres of influence and because he can only move toward that goal by new acts of aggression, the Kremlin leader is likely to attack a NATO country next, according to Vitaly Portnikov.


            The situation in Ukraine is moving toward a frozen conflict out of which he cannot extract more benefits for himself and his self-conception, the Kyiv analyst says in a commentary for Baku’s agency, and consequently he is looking elsewhere with the Baltic countries being the most likely target (


            Portnikov has no special inside knowledge in this regard, but both his impressive record as an analyst and the logic he suggests Putin is following makes what he has to say compelling if extremely frightening and deserves more attention than it receive if it appears only on an Azerbaijani site.


            Since Minsk, European countries have indicated that they are prepared to send military instructors to Ukraine and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has succeeded in purchasing military equipment. “In practice,” the analyst says, “this means the legalization of a mediation mission” which will allow Kyiv to get what it needs without direct aid from the US or NATO.


            This effort of the West “not simply to strengthen the Ukrainian line of the front after Minsk 2 but also to internationalize it demonstrates to Russia that if it attacks, the victims would be not only Ukrainian soldiers and citizens but also NATO personnel – and this is an entirely different level of involvement and responsibility of the aggressor.


            At the same time, Putin shows no sign of backing down in Ukraine. Despite giving lip service to the Minsk accords, the Russian leader has continued to strengthen the positions of Russian forces near Mariupol. And more generally, Russia “has begun large-scale exercises” along the border of the Baltic countries, all of which are members of NATO.


            “For the West, it is important if not to stop the conflict and restore the territorial integrity of Ukraine then to at least ‘freeze’ it along the contact line.”  But for Putin, “such ‘a freezing’ will not bring any dividends. Rather the reverse.” Ukraine will be able to stabilize, Western leaders won’t have any particular reason to lift sanctions or talk with him about a new world order, and the shortcomings of Putin’s economic system will be ever more obvious.

            So what will happen next? “What will the West do?” It will try to achieve peace. “What will Putin do? He will fight,” Portnikov says. He can’t achieve anything in peacetime, but war gives him a chance to use the one part of his state which is still relatively strong in order to bring pressure to bear on other leaders to take him and Russia into greater consideration. 

            “Putin’s goal,” Portnikov says, is to have a status equal to that of US President Barack Obama and then together with him “resolve the fates of the world,” much as he imagines Soviet leaders did with Washington during the Cold War. And Putin’s “only instrument” to achieve that is war so that he can become the embodiment of Dr. No, albeit not so comic.

            But Putin recognizes that not all military actions bring him equal benefits. More moves in Ukraine will not prompt Western leaders to rush to meet with him. They may instead simply increase sanctions and his isolation – and even do more to help Ukraine. What they won’t do is agree to some new grand bargain. Ukraine isn’t useful to Putin in that regard.

            But one act of aggression, albeit an extremely risky one, that could prompt the West to talk with him about “a new Yalta” would be an attack on a NATO country – and in Russia’s case that means Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania. Such an attack would show very quickly whether NATO leaders are prepared to act “seriously” or to “again limit themselves to sanctions and anger.”

            Such a move could blow up in Putin’s face, Portnikov concludes, but it is the only one available just now that could have the potential to lead some in the West to agree to “a real conference on the world order, a new Yalta,” if it didn’t lead to a war before such a conference could be convened.




Ten Disturbing Developments In and Around Russia

Paul Goble


            Staunton, February 27 – Disturbing events are happening with such dizzying speed that it is impossible to keep up with all of them. Indeed, this flood seems to be part of the Kremlin’s strategy to overload everyone’s cognitive system so that no adequate assessment or response can be developed or employed.


            The last few days have been especially full of such developments both large and apparently small that are at risk of being ignored as new events push them out of the news cycle. Although it is far from complete, here is a list of ten such reports that must not be ignored or forgotten:


  1. Moscow has Put Nuclear-Capable Rockets in Crimea, Cemilev Says.  Mustafa Cemilev, the leader of the Crimean Tatar national movement, says that Moscow has now concentrated more than 40,000 troops in the Russian-occupied peninsula and equipped them with nuclear-capable rockets (
  2. Russia Annexed Crimea Three Weeks Before the Referendum, Russian Court Actions Show.  Russian courts are treating the annexation of Crimea as having occurred three weeks before the referendum Vladimir Putin has said ratified the action, yet another way in which what the Kremlin has said and what are the facts on the ground are quite far apart (
  3. Bashkirs Urged to Put Aside Six Months of Their Incomes to Prepare for Massive Layoffs. Rustem Mardanov, the vice prime minister of Bashkortostan, has told citizens of his republic that they should begin putting aside six months of their income in savings in order to cope with what he suggested would be massive and long-lasting layoffs in the future, a comment that has done nothing to reassure people in the Middle Volga (
  4. Even Systemic Opposition Parties Not Safe from Police Raids.  Police in Makhachkala dispersed an official meeting of the Daghestan regional organization of Just Russia, an indication that the Putin regime is now prepared to go after members of the systemic opposition in much the same way it has pursued the non-systemic groups (
  5. FSB Wants Study of Russian-Language Skills of Baltic Nations and Ukrainians.  The FSB has published a tender offer for a study of how well ethnic Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians and Ukrainians speak Russian.  The Russian security agency wants it completed by September 2017. Such a study by itself is disturbing: the FSB isn’t supposed to be involved in that kind of foreign affairs activity. But it is even more frightening because of Moscow’s aggressive stance toward the four groups and their countries (
  6. Duma Considers Renaming Simferopil Putinoslavl to Honor Current Russian President.  In yet another example of the growing cult of personality of Vladimir Putin, the Russian legislature is considering renaming the Crimean city of Simferopil after him. It has already approved monuments to him in various places (
  7. Pro-Moscow Party Formed in Poland.  A new pro-Russian political party, “Zmiana” or “Change” has been organized in Poland. Its leaders have backed the Russian Anschluss of Crimea and the actions of the LNR and DNR militants (
  8. Hit by Hard Economic Times, Russians are Buying Fewer Pets and Pet Stores are Closing. One of the signs of improved lives in post-Soviet times was the acquisition of pets by many in Russia and elsewhere, but now that times are tough, Russians are purchasing 30 to 70 percent fewer dogs, cats and other pets and pet stores are closing throughout the country (
  9. Imprisoned Ukrainian Flier Now Near Death.  Supporters of Nadezha Savchenko, the Ukrainian pilot held in a Moscow jail and on hunger strike, say that she is now near death and could pass away any time.  They have called on the Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society to take action to save her (
  10. UN Should Go the Way of the League of Nations, Moscow Commentator Says. As if the Kremlin had not given the world enough reasons to compare what is happening now with what happened in Europe in the 1930s, Anna Shafran, a Moscow commentator, argues that the United Nations has become so politically biased against Russia that it should go the way of the League of Nations, close shop and allow a new and better organization to take its place (

Moscow Preparing Revolts in Major Ukrainian Cities, Poroshenko Ally Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, February 27 – Having been slowed by Ukrainian resistance and hope to use the Minsk Accords to avoid new sanctions, Moscow is planning to spark uprisings in major Ukrainian cities in March and April before beginning a major military attack on the country in May, according to Yuri Lutsenko, head of the Poroshenko fraction in the Verkhovna Rada.


            He says that the operations up to now were Plan A, the risings Moscow is seeking to organize in Ukrainian cities is Plan B, and a major new Russian aggression against Ukraine is Plan C, and he suggests that Plan B has a real chance because of the unhappiness of some in Ukraine with Kyiv’s policies (


            Some may be inclined to dismiss this as nothing more than a reflection of Ukrainian fears and part of an effort to get the West to provide additional support, including defensive arms, but there are there important reasons why that would be a mistake.


            First, as the “Novaya gazeta” document highlights, Moscow has been making plans about Ukraine for years, and consequently, it is almost certain that Russian officials or those like Malofeyev near the Kremlin have come up with plans like Lutsenko describes and that Ukrainians have learned about them.


            Second, using urban revolts as a means of undermining the power of Kyiv and allowing Moscow to expand its influence in Ukraine is absolutely consistent not only with the ideas of hybrid war but reflects something else: taking any Ukrainian city, even Mariupol, would be extremely difficult by military means alone.


            Such actions would likely require the use of massive artillery shelling or bombing, with the resulting massive loss of life that would have the effect of attracting the world’s attention to the brutality of the Russian advance and the heroism of Ukrainian defenders. Organizing a fifth column within cities is thus an attractive option for Russian military planners.  


            And third, and perhaps most compelling is the fact that the most horrific means Moscow has been willing to employ – such as state terrorism against the civilian population in Kharkiv – have been signaled well in advance to all who have paid even the most cursory attention to Russian news outlets.


            As Kseniya Kirillova points out in this week, “Putin’s supporters threatened terrorist actions in Ukraine already last fall.” Now, one can see that those were not idle threats however often many dismissed them (


            The journalist reports that in September, pro-Moscow opponents of a Ukrainian-American march in Seattle in support of Ukraine, said that the West should not be supporting “terrorists” in Ukraine but that if it continued to do so, then “terrorist actions” will be directed against Ukraine.


            Specifically, the pro-Moscow activist said: “If Luhansk and Donetsk aren’t enough for you, then we will also organize terrorist acts in Ukraine against you.”