Monday, December 9, 2013

Ukraine, the EU and Russia: Win, Don’t Whine

By Matthew Bryza

It is understandable that European leaders are angry with Russia for spoiling the European Union’s Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius by pressuring Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to “suspend” signing of Ukraine’s EU Association Agreement (see EDM, November 22, December 3, 4). Moscow’s hardball tactics created a diplomatic debacle for the EU, as President Vladimir Putin (yet again) violated his self-serving maxim of non-interference in countries’ internal affairs by yanking Ukraine from the EU’s open door at the eleventh hour, just as he had done earlier by forcing Armenia to choose the Eurasian Customs Union over the EU (see EDM, September 5). Putin’s closure of Russian markets to Ukrainian exports and his threat to raise natural gas prices struck at the heart of the personal interests of many of the oligarchs who dominate Ukrainian politics; these tactics also infuriated European leaders as economic blackmail aimed at sabotaging EU foreign policy.

But this European anger is somewhat misplaced. Moscow is indeed exploiting weaknesses in Ukraine for Russia’s geopolitical and geo-economic gain. But it is President Viktor Yanukovch and Ukraine’s political elite who are responsible for perpetuating these vulnerabilities. By exploiting Ukraine’s weaknesses, President Putin is acting rationally in pursuit of a centuries-old goal of Kremlin foreign policy, keeping Ukraine in Russia’s orbit.

Rather than being disappointed with Russia for behaving like Russia, the EU would be more effective if it recognized that Europe and Russia have been playing different games. The EU is engaged in a competition of values to attract Ukraine and the five other Eastern Partners (Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia) to its consensus-based community that has replaced armed conflict with bureaucratic collaboration. Russia is engaged in a competition of power in pursuit of geostrategic influence through economic, political, and even military strong-arming. Regardless of how passionately European leaders argue that EU enlargement poses no threat to Russia, Russia’s top geostrategic thinkers will disagree, given their belief that any increase in EU influence in the region is a loss of Russian influence.

The EU would therefore be wise to stop romanticizing Russia as a strategic partner that shares European values, and then lamenting Russia’s pursuit of its own national interests as somehow immoral. Instead, the EU should start competing with Russia for Ukraine’s political soul.

Now is the time for decisive action. After buckling under Putin’s pressure and returning to Kyiv from Russia and China without an economic rescue package, Yanukovych can now expect hundreds of thousands of protestors on Kyiv’s streets. Absent physical presence by European leaders in Kyiv, pro-EU protesters risk being beaten again (or worse) by the police. And, absent intense political support from European leaders, the protests are unlikely to expand sufficiently to Yanukovych’s political stronghold in eastern Ukraine to compel him to heed his own pro-Europe citizens rather than his Russian counterpart.

Here in Estonia, leaders across society can play two important roles in this broader EU effort. First, Estonia’s top political leaders can sustain their visible presence in Kyiv in support of protesters demanding their democratic rights, as Foreign Minister Urmas Paet did on December 6 during the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) ministerial meeting. Second, Estonian business and civil society leaders can advise their counterparts in Ukraine (as well as in Georgia and Moldova, which initialed EU Association Agreements in Vilnius) on the benefits of and way forward to EU accession. In these ways, Estonia could help the EU ensure a historic victory and underscore that Estonia is a net contributor of security to the Euro-Atlantic community.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Orenburg’s Bashkirs Look to Ufa and Islam for Survival

By Paul Goble

The Bashkirs of Orenburg, increasingly concerned about their present and past mistreatment by the authorities, appear to be stepping up their collective political activity. The Orenburg oblast was created by Joseph Stalin to prevent Bashkortostan from having an external border and thus be able to demand union republic status in Soviet times (for background on this issue, see EDM, November 19).

On November 23, the Bashkirs held the fifth Orenburg oblast kurultay or assembly. They were greeted by Oleg Dimov, the deputy head of the government of the oblast, a delegation from Bashkortostan, which read out a message from that republic’s president, as well as other officials, journalists and scholars ( Among the issues discussed, however, were many that were far more sensitive and controversial: the preservation of the Bashkir language in Orenburg, the protection of Bashkir national sites and mosques there, and government support for the only Bashkir-language publication in the oblast, “Karavan-Saray.”

Nurislam Kalmantayev, a Bashkir from Orenburg oblast who now teaches at the Bashkortostan State University in Ufa, outlined many of the concerns and complaints that the Bashkirs of Orenburg have.  In his speech to the kurultay, he not only talked about Bashkir resistance to Moscow’s decision to transfer some historically Bashkir lands to what became Orenburg oblast, but also about the assimilatory pressures the Bashkirs of Orenburg now face (

Recent sociological research shows, he said, that most Bashkirs in Orenburg oblast aged 35 to 60 speak Bashkir but that those younger than that do not—the result of two waves of Bashkir-language school closures there, first in the 1960s and then during the last several years.  Despite the claims of some officials, Orenburg’s Bashkirs do not want their schools closed and want Ufa to pressure Orenburg.  But “unfortunately,” Kalmantayev said, “this decision does not depend” on Bashkortostan.

Bashkir activists have asked Orenburg officials to stop the current wave of school closings and to create Bashkir-language sections of Russian schools, where preventing the closures of Bashkir academic institutions is not possible for financial reasons. The Ufa-based scholar said that, in talking with Bashkir parents in Orenburg, he had found that they were ready to sign a petition to that effect.  “The time has come,” he continued, “to speak out on this problem. Today it is not yet too late; tomorrow, it will be.”

He said that the Bashkirs of Orenburg also want the Bashkortostan culture ministry to work with Orenburg to revive national customs. Moreover, the scholar noted, Orenburg’s Bashkirs believes that “for the consolidation of the people, [they] need to use the possibilities of the Muslim religion, to which the young are drawn.”  And they want to rely on organizations like the oblast kurultay because they are finally coming to understand that “no one will solve these problems” except themselves. Kalmantayev appealed to the kurultay to overcome its divisions, to work closely with Ufa, and to ensure that “the Orenburg Bashkirs will occupy a worthy place” in the future.

Monday, December 2, 2013

For Moscow, the ‘Tyumen Matryoshka’ No Longer Exists

By Paul Goble

Vladimir Putin’s plan to eliminate all “matryoshka” autonomies has stalled at the political level. Nevertheless, Moscow is using a reorganization of its oil and gas agency to downgrade the status of the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous District (AD) and the Yamalo-Nenets AD, which are surrounded by the larger Tyumen Oblast. Indeed, according to Larisa Rychkova, a analyst, “for Moscow, the ‘Tyumen matryoshka’ no longer exists.” Yet, what is “unprecedented” about all this, she argues, is that this latest move also represents “a terrible threat” to Tyumen because it means that Russia’s real “oil capital” will be Yekaterinburg rather than in any of the aforementioned three (

Last week, Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology announced that by April 2014 it will divide the country into 11 districts that Rosnedr, the federal agency that oversees oil and gas extraction, will use in place of its offices in federal subjects. While this may appear to outsiders as a simple act of bureaucratic housekeeping, the three governors of the Tyumen “matryoshka” immediately recognized its political consequences and are opposing it behind the scenes. 

The three saw this move by Moscow as a threat to their prerogatives and power because it would concentrate control over the most important part of their economies even though they are far more important producers than Yekaterinburg, where the new office would be located. Indeed, last year, the three produced 50 percent of Russia’s oil and 90 percent of Russia’s gas, giving them the kind of economic clout that for five years has blocked Putin’s plan to combine them into a single federal subject.

But now, the Kremlin, by depriving the three federal subjects of their longstanding role in the management of this sector, will force all three governors to go to Yekaterinburg. The latter will handle all the lucrative auctions in this sector.  And the three “matryoshka” units will be so weakened that Moscow may finally be able to combine them—but in such a weakened state that even the Tyumen leadership will remain opposed to such a step.

According to’s Rychkova, this “reform” was dreamed up in Moscow in order to ensure that “the ‘Tyumen matryoshka’ [...] will lose its status as the chief oil and gas province of Russia.” Such a step will allow Moscow to further centralize power and weaken the federal subjects involved “by using the logic of an imperial bureaucracy” and appointing someone to oversee Moscow’s interests “who does not have any connection” with the sector over which he is nominally in charge.

The immediate result is that the struggle against regional consolidation is now taking place behind the scenes in the offices of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology. And the best measure of how it is going, Ruchkova says, will be the number of oil and gas geologists who have been working for the federal subject governments but who may now choose to offer their services to private companies.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Mongolia TV Broadcasts to Buryatia and Tuva

By Paul Goble

Ulaanbaatar has launched television programming directed at the Buryats, with whom the Mongols are closely related linguistically and religiously, and at the Tuvins, with whom they share a common Buddhist heritage. This represents another way in which Mongolia, rather than European Russia, is becoming a center of attraction for the non-Russian peoples in what has sometimes been called “the Baikal cork,” the small strip of land south of Lake Baikal through which passes almost all of Russia’s communications and transportation links with the Russian Far East (;

The Mongolian government announced this new channel, MN2, at the sixth annual meeting of Mongolians with Tuvans from the Republic of Tuva and Buryats from the Republic of Buryatia, Irkutsk oblast’s Ust-Orda District (which was a self-standing federal subject of the Russian Federation prior to Vladimir Putin’s regional amalgamation campaign), and Inner Mongolia of the Chinese People’s Republic. Both the meeting and the new channel are being supported with assistance from UNESCO.

But television was far from the only topic at last week’s meeting in Ulaanbaatar. Mongolian officials also discussed how to improve Buryat-language media in Buryat regions of the Russian Federation and how to promote a Buryat-language Internet community, something that many Buryats have felt they currently lack.  As such, this Mongolian-UNESCO effort will help promote the survival and even growth of Buryat and Tuvinian identity at a time when Moscow is cutting back on support for non-Russian languages.

Moreover, this Mongolian program gives both the Buryats and the Tuvins new international contacts, something that will help them defend their nations against russianization and russification, giving them a new focus beyond the borders of the Russian Federation. As this session demonstrated, they welcome this new opportunity. The spread of such opportunities for other nations within the borders of the Russian Federation will undoubtedly worry Moscow, however successful it has been in limiting Western broadcasting to the country as a whole.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Cossacks’ Contradictory Demands Suggest Kremlin Meddling

By Valery Dzutsev

On November 18, an association of southern Russia’s Cossacks issued a strongly worded address to the Russian leadership. The Cossacks demanded that Moscow provide preferential treatment for ethnic Russians in comparison to other Russian citizens, in particular, the North Caucasians. The Cossacks warned that “the loyalty of the [North] Caucasian corrupt elites [will] disappear, when the money they receive from the 80 percent of the Russian population of the country [ethnic Russians] runs out.” Instead, the Cossacks proposed that Moscow support them as the protectors of Russia’s unity, especially in the North Caucasus region. The Cossacks also attacked Moscow’s envoy to the North Caucasus, Alexander Khloponin: “The empty promises to Russians and Cossacks of the Plenipotentiary Representative of the President in the North Caucasian Federal District made everybody wonder. Perhaps, the abandonment of the region by Russians, Cossacks and other Slavs is the strategic goal of his [Khloponin’s] activities?” the Cossack address questioned (

Russian nationalists in Stavropol region have been voicing their concerns about the changing ethnic makeup of the region for some time. Large swaths of eastern Stavropol region are especially vulnerable to the influx of North Caucasians, especially Dagestanis, in the opinion of the Russian activists. One Russian activist, Sergei Popov, told the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta that, according to official data, about 25,000 “indigenous people” (i.e. ethnic Russians) left the eastern areas of Stavropol region since 1995. At the same time the population of ethnic Dagestanis reportedly increased to 50,000 or even 100,000 people ( Ethnic Russians still comprise over 80 percent of the total population of Stavropol region, so ethnic Russians’ concerns are hardly well-founded but, over the long term, the population dynamics indeed do not favor ethnic Russians (Russian census 2010).

The Cossacks’ address reflects the contradictory wishes being expressed by the Russian community of Stavropol. On the one hand, ethnic Russians want to keep at bay the North Caucasian population, but on the other, they call on the central government to disband the titular ethnic republics. A disbandment of the republics and an increased effort to assimilate the North Caucasians would result in an even greater influx of people from the North Caucasus to the Stavropol region. So the ethnic Russians of Stavropol would have to deal with ever larger numbers of non-Russian migrants. Therefore, the Stavropol ethnic Russians’ genuine discontent notwithstanding, arguably it appears that their protests are being used by Moscow to advance the federal government’s goals to diminish and eventually eliminate the republics of the North Caucasus. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Russia’s Cossacks Increasingly Diverse, Numerous and Important

By Paul Goble

With each passing month, the number and diversity of Russia’s Cossack community become greater, with both aspects increasing faster than Moscow can keep track. Last week, the regional development ministry published its latest count of members of the 11 Cossack voiskas (“armies”), but even before the ink was dry on that document, both the number and diversity of this group, now recognized as a nation by some Russian regions, increased with the return of 2,000 Semireche Cossacks from Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan (

The Semireche Cossacks, whose “voisko” was established only in 1867 to provide a Russian defense line in what is now southeastern Kazakhstan and northern Kyrgyzstan, are among the least well-known of the Cossack communities.  But they now take their place beside and add to the numbers Moscow announced: 126,000 members of the Grand Voisko of the Don, 75,000 of the Central Cossack Voiska, 14,000 of the Volga Voisko, 66,000 of the Yenisey Voisko, 6,000 of the Trans-Baikal Voisko, 4,500 of the Irkutsk voisko, 146,000 of the Kuban Voisko,  25,000 for the Orenburg Voisko, 6,000 for the Siberian Voisko, 30,000 for the Terek Voisko, and 6,000 for the Ussuri Voisko, for a total of 506,000 Cossacks now registered with the Russian state (

Most Cossacks on this list are members of the Triune Cossacks of the Don—Kuban and Terek—about whom most Russians have some knowledge albeit distorted from Michail Sholokhov’s novels and about whom most people outside Russia have a very distorted image thanks to Hollywood.  The knowledge of both is inadequate in at least three respects.  First, although almost all Cossacks stood at the defense of the borderlands of the Russian Empire in the past and seek to reprise that role now, they were hardly all the same: The Trans-Baikal Cossacks, to give the clearest example, were mostly Buddhists, a fact that does not fit easily into either Russian or Western imagery.

Second, the numbers the Russian government is offering are far too low.  Many Cossacks refuse to register with the authorities, and Cossack groups have offered estimates of the total number of Cossacks as two million or more. And third, there is a problem in defining who is a Cossack and who is not. Many Cossacks now view themselves as a nation rather than a social stratum, as the Russian and Soviet governments defined them, and thus stress descent from earlier Cossack generations.  But many who identify as Cossacks now are self-declared. They have no such roots but simply identify with what they see as Cossack values. Some Cossack leaders accept these “neo-Cossacks” as welcome members to their ranks, but others do not.

There are currently three all-Russian laws and 21 regional laws governing the Cossacks. Yet, judging by the Russian legislation, as well as the increasing use of Cossacks not only as symbols of Russian state power but as the core of popular militias intended to maintain order in Russia’s regions and cities, the Cossacks are going to play a growing role in Russian life—even if ever more of them celebrate their diversity and distinctiveness from the Russian nation.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Russians, Tatars and Chuvash Share Considerable ‘Psychological Similarity’

By Paul Goble

A survey conducted by scholars at the Naberezhny Chelny Institute for Social-Pedagogical Technologies and Resources found that Russians, Tatars, and Chuvash living in Tatarstan’s second largest city share many positive and negative stereotypes about their own nation and the other two, something the researchers say may be the basis for developing inter-ethnic tolerance there.

Members of the three largest nationalities of Naberezhny Chelny were asked to say what they thought were the positive and negative features of their own group and each of the other two. The answers they offered provide an unusual window into the way in which members of these groups, who have been living together for centuries, view each other (

Concerning the Tatars, the titular nationality of the republic and the largest group in that city, both ethnic Russians and Chuvash noted the Tatars’ love of work and their hospitality, but they also both said that Tatars are clannish and overly clever. According to the lead author of the study, Rezida Khusnutdinova, the Tatars agreed with both these positive and negative characterizations of themselves.

In reporting her findings, Khusnutdinova suggested that the Tatars’ love of work reflected their adoption of Islam. Their clannishness stemmed from the fact that most of them had lived in rural areas until relatively recently, and their reputation for cleverness originated from their past as merchants in Volga Bulgaria.

Concerning the ethnic Russians, the Tatars and Chuvash said their positive qualities included kindness, generosity and openness; and their negative ones included laziness and a proclivity to drink too much. The Russians themselves used exactly the same terms to describe themselves positively and negatively. According to Khusnutdinova, the positive features of the Russians are “the reverse side of the negative and therefore inseparable from the latter.”

And concerning the Chuvash, who are Christian Turks historically, the Tatars and Russians noted the honesty and directness of members of that community but said the Chuvash tended to be sloppy and dirty.  Perhaps significantly, the Chuvash used the same terms, positive and negative, to describe themselves. Khusnutdinova notes that Gennady Matveyev, an expert on the Chuvash, provides an explanation for this pattern. He says that “for the overwhelming majority of the Chuvash, they ‘stereotypically’ seek to live by their own labor... They remain attached to the land.  They accepted Orthodoxy not so long ago, in the 16th century, and therefore they still display aspect of agrarian pagan cults.” And as a result, both they and others view them as sloppy or dirty.

Khusnutdinova says the most important finding of her investigation was not this or that positive or negative description of other groups but the fact that members of each of the groups characterized themselves in the same terms that others used to describe them.  That suggests, she adds, that “there is a high level of mutual understanding” among them and that there is a great deal of “psychological similarity.”  That in turn means, she suggests, that “there are fewer possibilities for the growth of ethnic intolerance.”

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Possible Third Way for Ukraine: No EU Association Agreement and No Customs Union

By Fuad Chiragov

The majority of experts think that only two options exist for Ukraine: either an Association Agreement with the European Union or the Russia-led Customs Union. However, there is actually a third way that was suggested by the Ukrainian newspaper Obozrevatel on August 20, with a column titled “Azerbaijan can offer a third way for Ukraine” ( This possible third way for Ukraine would mean not signing the EU Association Agreement as well as refraining from joining the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Such an option does not necessarily imply an isolationist stance against the EU; rather than it means exploring the potential outside partnerships for Ukraine to be able withstand external pressure currently being applied to it.

Against this background, the visit of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to Ukraine on November 17, 2013, was clearly not an ordinary formal state visit. On November 18, in Kiev, President Aliyev and President Viktor Yanukovych signed the Fourth Protocol of the meeting of the Council of Presidents. The Protocol covered the results of a discussion of the main issues in bilateral relations, namely the current situation and perspectives for the development of relations as well as cooperation in trade, economy and energy (

Most interestingly, on November 19, the Ministry of Energy of Ukraine announced that Kiev is ready to participate in the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) by investing approximately $800 million in this project. During their meeting, the two presidents also discussed Ukraine’s proposal to connect TANAP to the gas pipeline networks of Bulgaria and Romania and then onward, via the Ananev-Tiraspol-Izmail route, to Ukraine’s Odessa province. This corridor would result in the transit of 10 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas annually ( According to Ukrainian calculations, its $800 million investment would be reimbursed within five years because gas transiting through this pipeline to Ukraine will be $60–$80 per thousand cubic meters cheaper than Russian gas.

While debate still rages about whether Ukraine will sign the EU Association Agreement at the November 28–29 summit in Vilnius, Aliyev’s visit to Kyiv was particularly symbolic and significant. Some commentators even argue that President Aliyev actually saved President Yanukovich ahead of the Vilnius summit ( by easing external pressure on Ukraine and creating breathing room for the government to make its crucial decisionWhile meeting with Aliyev, Yanukovych recalled that the former president of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev, had saved the Ukrainian agriculture and energy sectors in the 1990s by ensuring a steady supply of Azerbaijani oil to the country (; Moreover, during the 2009 Russia-Ukraine gas crisis (, Azerbaijan increased its oil supplies to Ukraine, which helped Kyiv overcome the consequences of the disruptions of its gas imports (

Similarly, Azerbaijan stepped in to help Belarus deal with its gas purchase debts to Gazprom in November 2010. The Russian natural gas monopoly began decreasing gas shipments to Belarus until its debts were repaid. And with a lack of financial resources to make the payments to Gazprom, the Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said that he “approached the president of Azerbaijan, and President Ilham Aliyev lent $200 million within less than one day, and Belarus closed her $187 million debt to Russia.” Gazprom resumed its full gas sales to Minsk three days later ( Azerbaijan had also interceded—when Western powers did not—to provide extra gas to Georgia when the power line and natural gas pipeline connecting Georgia to Russia were blown up in January 2006, as well as during several similar such instances in the 1990s (; ( Moreover, 40 percent of Israel’s gas consumption today comes from Azerbaijan (

Ukraine has yet to make a final decision on whether it will choose the Association Agreement or the Customs Union, and a cost benefit analysis is likely affecting this decision. President Yanukovych may consider joining the Customs Union to be politically costly for him, while signing the agreement with the EU is likely to bring higher political gains for Ukraine. Nevertheless, Kyiv may be considering the EU Association Agreement to be too costly in the short term if Ukraine does not receive any external assistance in the face of Russian pressure. In other words, Ukraine categorically rejects joining the Customs Union, which would genuinely infringe on Ukrainian independence, but although Ukraine wants closer integration with the EU, it cannot currently afford to sign the Association Agreement.

The August column in Obozrevatel notes that “many experts fail to notice that actually there is a third way, which Azerbaijan has demonstrated more than confidently for twenty years. This former Soviet republic cooperates very effectively with the EU, the US, the countries of the Middle East and the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States]. The visit of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin to Baku in August 2013,” the paper continues, “demonstrated that Azerbaijan manages successfully to find common language with different partners and to build bilateral dialogue with different partners equally.” The editorial column also mentions that this strategy does not impede Azerbaijan from initiating and managing regional mega projects like TANAP and the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) or acquiring the gas supply system of Greece or investing $20 billion in Turkey’s economy. “All these allowed Azerbaijan’s economy to reach a new level and to strengthen its positions at the global level” (

The column argues that Azerbaijan can actively influence political processes in the Balkan countries, Bulgaria, Albania as well as others. Finally, Obozrevatel also suggests that Ukraine and Azerbaijan should establish their own free trade zone or other form of allied economic relations. For this purpose Ukraine will need to look at Azerbaijan in a different way—not as a former Soviet republic with which it has had good relations—but as a “real power” (“kak na derzhavu”), with which it could develop deep economic relations now and in the future.

Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova—the latter two are expected to initial association agreements with the EU at the Vilnius summit—are in the middle of perhaps the most important period of their existence as independent states. They stand before a crucial choice that will determine their future. On September 3, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan capitulated in the face of Russian pressure by announcing that Armenia would join the Russia-led Customs Union (see EDM, September 5, 6, 11, 18).

Considering Armenia’s relative economic and geopolitical strength, this country is neither a substantial loss for Europe nor a real gain for the Customs Union. The real jackpot remains Ukraine, and the ultimate winner of this geopolitical contest will be the side that manages to secure Ukraine’s orientation. But while expressing a real desire to sign the Association Agreement with the EU, Ukraine remains concerned about the possible negative consequences of closer European ties, which EU officials rarely publicly recognize or acknowledge.

Kyiv expresses concerns that the United States and the EU have offered neither real nor tangible support to Ukraine, and the West has not expressed a real unanimous commitment to help Ukraine overcome and compensate for the negative consequences coming from Moscow should Ukraine make a definitive pro-European choice. On October 25, Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov noted that 40 percent Ukraine’s trade is with countries of the future Eurasian Union and just 30 percent is with the EU ( Neither the EU nor the US responded adequately when the assistant to the Russian president, Sergei Glazyev, threatened that Ukraine might face real fiscal default if it signs the agreement with the EU (;

Other than political declarations criticizing Russian pressure ahead of a possible EU deal (, so far the European Union has fallen short on offering tangible action plans to assist Ukraine—for example in the imminent event of a shutdown of Russian gas supplies to the country during winter 2013–2014. Russian pressure in the energy sphere is readily apparent: On November 15, Gazprom announced that Ukraine owed $1.3 billion for gas by the end of October (

Taking all the above into account, Azerbaijan’s role in offering a “third way” for Ukraine could indeed be received positively in Kyiv. The third way does not necessarily imply an isolationist stance or even an alternative to closer relations with the EU. Rather, this option implies bilateral Ukrainian-Azerbaijani cooperation to neutralize the potential negative consequences of European integration for either country, but especially for Ukraine. As Aliyev, in his recent meeting with Yanukovych, pointed out “Cooperation in [hydrocarbon transportation] as well as in other fields will enable [Azerbaijan and Ukraine] to strengthen our positions in the Caspian and Black Sea region” (

Regardless of whether or not Ukraine ultimately signs the Association Agreement in Vilnius, a closer alignment with Azerbaijan and the cooperation projects that Baku proposes are, nevertheless, in Kyiv’s best interest. If Ukraine signs the agreement, closer economic ties with Azerbaijan will ease the negative consequences of the decision brought about by Russia’s retaliation. But if the signing is delayed beyond the Vilnius summit, Ukraine’s cooperation with Azerbaijan will allow Kyiv to withstand Russian economic pressure during that time frame (

Friday, November 15, 2013

Shifting Ethnic Balance in Sakha Sparks Russian Fears and Anger

By Paul Goble

In recent months, most discussions about the rise of xenophobia among ethnic Russians have focused on the impact of the influx of Central Asian and Caucasian guest workers into Moscow and other Russian cities. But there is another source of Russian xenophobia that is likely to have even more serious consequences for the stability and even territorial integrity of the Russian Federation: That is the shifting ethnic balance in many non-Russian republics where, 25 years ago, ethnic Russians had a majority or a least a plurality, but where now, they find themselves in the unaccustomed and uncomfortable position of a declining minority.

Nowhere has that demographic shift, one that reflects the aging and outflow of ethnic Russians and the higher fertility rates of the indigenous nationalities, been greater than in the North Caucasus, something that Russian and Western demographers have discussed especially in the case of Stavropol krai, where Russian xenophobic nationalism is very much on the rise. But the same pattern, with many of the same causes, is occurring elsewhere and creating serious problems for Moscow.

One rarely mentioned place where that is currently the case is Sakha, the enormous republic in the Russian Far East, which is the source of much of the Russian Federation’s natural wealth. In 1989, ethnic Russians formed 48 percent of the population, and Slavs a total of 57 percent, a reflection of Moscow’s dispatch of Russians to that republic to develop its mineral wealth. Now, according to the latest census (, Russians form only 38 percent and Slavs only a total of 40 percent, with the titular nationality having gone from being a minority in its own republic to a majority. Not surprisingly, this demographic shift has affected attitudes among both groups.

But because Sakha is so far away from Moscow and because the central Russian government does not want to promote more Russian flight from Sakha lest that undercut the ability of the center to extract resources or lead to nationalist demands, the all-Russian media seldom reports on these demography-driven changes. However, they have increasingly become the subject of stories on Russian social networks. Undoubtedly, many of these reports are exaggerated, but they point to some serious problems.

One recent example of this trend (see says that a visiting Russian Orthodox priest was greeted in one village in Sakha by Russians who shouted ‘The occupiers have come! People, they are occupying us!” a reference not to the priest or to the Russian state but to the Sakha people. “Unfortunately,” the post continues, this is anything but an exception to a pattern that, it claims, reflects the policy of the republic government, which is ignoring the rights of Russians while boosting those of the Sakha in order to build its own power.

Such tensions and such complaints by ethnic Russians who are seeing their dominance called into question recall what happened in many places at the end of Soviet times. And memories of what happened then undoubtedly add to Russian fears now.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Few Azerbaijanis Distinguish Between Sunni and Shia Islam

By Paul Goble

In most Islamic countries where there is a significant Shia population, Muslims are deeply concerned about tensions between this and the Sunni branch of Islam, according to a Pew Forum poll. In Lebanon, 67 percent of the population says that Sunni-Shia tensions are a major concern; in Iraq, 52 percent do; in Afghanistan, 44 percent say that; but in Azerbaijan, where two-thirds of the population are Shia, only 2 percent say that tensions between the two main branches of Islam are either “a very big” or “a moderately big” worry (

What makes Azerbaijan different?  At least three things. First, as a result of Soviet anti-religious policies, few Azerbaijanis fully understand the difference between the two trends in Islam. Having lived much of their lives without religious instruction and with few working mosques, residents of that republic have not had the access to instruction in the differences between the trends.

Indeed, while younger people who have been exposed to more Islamic instruction are more knowledgeable, Azerbaijanis as a whole tend to divide the Muslim congregations in their country by referring to some as “Turkish” and others as “Iranian,” referring less to the doctrinal differences between the two Muslim trends these represent than to the financing behind them.  Turkey built some of the new mosques in Azerbaijan in the 1990s, including some of the largest, and Iran built many of the others.

Second, Sunni-Shia differences are overshadowed in Azerbaijan by nationalism, the result not only of the Armenian occupation of 20 percent of the country, but also of government efforts to promote a largely secular nationalism in the style of modern Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Consequently, when Azerbaijanis do speak about Sunni-Shia differences, they most often are referring not to divides within their own nation but rather to the divide between themselves and ethnic groups like the Lezgins who are seen as allied to Iran. 

And third, as the Azerbaijani government repeatedly asserts, Azerbaijanis are, as a result of their history, generally more cosmopolitan and religiously tolerant than many other Muslim countries.  Baku has good relations with its own Jewish community and with Israel, and the inter-religious tolerance behind that simultaneously sets Azerbaijan apart from much of the Islamic world and predisposes Azerbaijanis to be tolerant of religious diversity within their own nation.

To say this is not to say that there have not been problems between the Azerbaijani government and Shia parishes.  The authorities have moved against several Shia mosques, but this has had less to do with a doctrinal commitment to the Sunnis than with concerns that these “Iranian” mosques are a potential source of political instability.

And it is also not to say that the current situation will continue forever.  Those born since 1980—and they now are a majority of the population—have been far more exposed to religious instruction, and some of them are, therefore, more closely tied to Sunni or Shia Islam. That reality could have consequences in the future.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Ukraine’s Boxer Klichko May Be out of Presidential Race

By Oleg Varfolomeyev

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has signed into law a tax amendment that may disqualify world boxing champion Vitaly Klichko from the presidential race in early 2015 (, November 8). The parliament, which is dominated by Yanukovych’s Party of Regions (PRU), on October 24, passed the amendment according to which those who have residence permits issued by foreign countries shall not be regarded as residents of Ukraine for taxation purposes (UNIAN, October 24). However, non-residents may not run for president, according to the Ukrainian constitution.  

Klichko has a German residency permit, so the amendment prompted him to tell parliament on the same day that he would, nevertheless, run for president anyway. Although he has been widely expected to run, by making this announcement, Klichko became the first Ukrainian politician to openly confirm his ambitions. Klichko claimed that the PRU was trying to strip him of Ukrainian citizenship with the help of the taxation amendment (Ukrainska Pravda, October 24).

Recent public opinion polls show Klichko to be the second most popular presidential candidate after Yanukovych—especially if former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was sentenced in October 2011 to seven years in prison for abuse of office, is not pardoned. Furthermore, Klichko is currently projected to likely defeat Yanukovych in a runoff election ( citing a survey by Rating, October 21; Interfax-Ukraine citing a survey by KIIS, October 5).

Notably, the controversial tax amendment was authored by Ihor Brychenko, a parliamentary deputy representing Klichko’s allies from Tymoshenko’s opposition party Fatherland. However, Brychenko claimed that he did not author the bill and that his signature was forged. Kyiv prosecutors launched criminal proceedings, suspecting forgery and deliberate misleading of a parliamentarian, but the local police later closed the case (Ukrainska Pravda, November 9). cited two unnamed deputies from the PRU as saying that Brychenko had been asked by representatives from their party to author the amendment. According to the deputies, he initially did not understand what the amendment was about; when he did, he tried to recall it, but it was too late (, October 25).

Even if Klichko is not disqualified, the ruling party is apparently going to use the fact that he paid taxes abroad against him in the upcoming election campaign. Thus, after the adoption of the amendment, the leader of the PRU caucus in parliament, Oleksandr Yefremov, told the press that he doubted Klichko’s moral right to run for president. Yefremov said it was wrong for a people’s deputy not to pay taxes in his homeland (, October 24). Another PRU senior member, Hanna Herman, told the parliament that Klichko paid taxes in Germany, a country which had ravaged Ukraine during World War II (, October 24).

The scandal around the controversial taxation amendment raises questions about ethics in Ukrainian politics at a time when the country hopes to sign an association agreement with the European Union. US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Melia, who happened to be in Kyiv when the amendment was passed, said he thought it might damage the election process (Channel 5, October 24). If both Tymoshenko and Klichko are eliminated from the race, it will be hard for Yanukovych to explain such a coincidence to the West.

Monday, November 11, 2013

‘Russian March’ 2013: A Post-Mortem Analysis

By Richard Arnold

The “Russian March,” which took place on November 4—Russian Unity Day—passed off without a major violent incident this year, but the most interesting feature for observers of Russian politics is how central the nationalists have become to protests against the government and opposition in Russia in general. Based on the evidence of the Russian March, one might go so far as to say that the Far Right has won the ideological battle for the “hearts and minds” of the protest movement and is now the main non-systemic opposition. Any individual who wishes to unite the opposition to Putin, such as Alexei Navalny (who did not attend the March in 2013 but has done so for the four previous years—, will have to make at least surface concessions to the extreme nationalists and even neo-Nazis.

The 2013 Russian “March” was in reality a large number of marches happening all over the country. According to Dmitry Demushkin, one of the organizers of the March, there were processions in about 100 cities ( While this claim awaits precise verification, the social networking site certainly featured pictures of nationalist marches in a large number of cities ( For example, there were such demonstrations in the industrial city of Podolsk (Moscow Oblast), St. Petersburg (Leningrad Oblast), Tver (Tver Oblast), Krasnoyarsk (Krasnoyarsk Oblast), and many more ( The fact is that the Russian March, previously an event restricted Moscow and a few other cities, has now become a truly national event. That it could become so is testimony to how acceptable nationalism appears to have become in the Russian Federation.
Not only was the March more widespread than ever before, but participation in the March increased to include a broader swath of society as well. Nationalist leader Vladimir Tor said that “the usual participant in the Russian March was a young man of approximately 25. This time, especially in the beginning, there was a better balance of the population—from young women to young children” ( These statements are at least partially confirmed by photographs and videos of the event. The March in Moscow drew between 10,000 and 20,000 people. Estimates vary according to the source of the reporting. The March, which was sanctioned by the authorities, saw metal detectors and scanners at the gathering place in the Moscow suburb of Lublino, in a bid to ensure the safety of those in attendance. The Moscow march was led by nationalist Dmitry Demushkin and the nationalists were joined by Cossacks and bikers ( The turnout for the march was even more impressive due to the heavy rain, which also decided to be present for the event.

Yet the March retained some of its original nature. First, the “slogan” used for the March—“We must secure our Russian land for the future of our people and the future of Russian children!”—is a modified form of American racist David Lane’s “14 words.” Indeed, in a possible overture to the more democratic portions of the protest organization, the same webpage holds a poll asking for opinions around the “14 words” of the Russian March. As of November 6, over 80 percent of respondents had given favorable opinions of the phrase ( While this impromptu poll can hardly be called scientific, it is further anecdotal evidence that the idioms of the Far Right are becoming used by the mainstream opposition. Second, the Moscow march featured a large number of neo-Nazi elements, openly mocking Islamists for being terrorists and throwing Nazi salutes ( The danger is that where the March makes the form of neo-Nazism respectable to ordinary Russians, the content of that ideology may follow also.

The “Russian March” may have made relatively few headlines in 2013 and may not have seen any major incidences of violence, although there were plenty of those in Moscow in October. But its continued presence and increased popularity in both geographical and social coverage demonstrates the central role that nationalism will have to play in any serious opposition movement to Putin. And as the ethnically exclusive “Russian March” further institutionalizes itself on a holiday invented by the Kremlin to celebrate civic diversity, those nationalist voices will only become louder.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Ukraine Pursues ‘Small-Steps’ Tactics in 5+2 Talks on Transnistrian Conflict Settlement

By Hanna Shelest

The most recent round of official “5+2” format negations on the settlement of Moldova’s breakaway territory of Transnistria took place in Brussels on October 3 and became the fourth such negotiation session in 2013 ( Ukraine’s success as a mediator in the Transnistrian conflict appears limited to date, even though many experts expected a real breakthrough since Kyiv holds the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) this year. In addition to Moldova and Transnistria, the 5+2 talks involve Ukraine and the other two permanent mediators, Russia and the OSCE (the “5”), while the United States and the European Union are officially observers (the “+2”).  Significant agreements in the 5+2 talks have yet to be reached. At the same time, however, Ukraine’s OSCE chairmanship has managed to maintain a stable dialogue and has achieved some of the most frequent series of official negotiations meetings. The next round is scheduled to take place on November 25–26, in Kyiv.  It is further worth noting that three of the five rounds of 5+2 talks held in 2013 will take place in Ukraine, thus improving this mediator’s position compared with the other parties involved in the process (first of all Russia and the EU).

Negotiations between Moldova and Transnistria were resumed in November 2011 following a hiatus of almost six years (see EDM, November 29, 2011). By that time, Ukraine almost entirely lost its stance in the negotiations, remaining in the shadow of the Russian Federation’s more active role in the talks. Until then, the so-called Yushchenko Plan of 2005 (put forth by then-president of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko), which introduced the European Union Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) and greater EU involvement in the conflict resolution process, represented the only major result of Ukraine’s participation in the 5+2 format (RFE/RL, July 15, 2005).

Yet, in 2013, Ukraine has managed to concentrate the attention of the conflicting parties on “technical” issues, such as dismantling the old industrial cable car near the town of Rybnitsa, renewed navigation of the Dniester River, environmental cooperation, the revival of traffic along some bridges, freedom of movement, etc. This politics of “small steps” has continued.

Ukraine spent a long time trying to bring the leaders of Moldova and Transnistria back to the negotiating table. The last round of talks was expected to take place in February 2013; however, the Ukrainian announcement of both sides’ readiness to move to the third negotiation package (political status, institutions, security) proved premature and resulted in a cancelation of the talks by Chisinau and Tiraspol. This October’s round of talks followed a recent high-level meeting between Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leanca and Transnistrian leader Yevgeniy Shevchuk in Tiraspol on September 23. At this meeting, the two sides signed a protocol decision on the prolongation of freight rail traffic through the Transnistrian region until 2015. According to the OSCE Chair’s Special Representative for Conflicts, Ambassador Andrii Deshchytsia, the Tiraspol meeting paved the way for a productive discussion in Brussels  (

Freedom of movement is one of the priorities of the Ukrainian OSCE Chairmanship agenda for Transnistria, as it reflects the interests not only of Moldova and Transnistria but also of Ukraine, which has a 400-kilometer border with the breakaway Moldovan region. Indeed, until recently, there were no direct train connection between the Odessa region in Ukraine and Chisinau in Moldova, as the rail line crossed the territory of Transnistria. It was not until 2011, thanks to the EUBAM’s mediation efforts, that train service linking the two areas was renewed.

Meanwhile, administrative barriers are the main issue of conflict dividing Moldova and Transnistria. In particular, as breakaway Transnistria’s Foreign Minister Nina Shtanski noted, Tiraspol particularly sees Moldova’s customs posts along the Dniester River as efforts by Chisinau to re-demarcate the shared border ( Moreover, local representatives are afraid that since many Transnistrians hold Russian or Ukrainian passports and do not have Moldovan permanent residency documents, they will be forced to pay a fine at the Moldovan customs posts every time they cross the border ( Many residents of the Transnistrian city of Bendery work in Chisinau, which is just one hour away by car. Therefore, the introduction of a customs regime along the de facto border has the potential to become a significant economic and social problem. Yet, Moldova defends its action by citing the need to secure the border in order to fight against illegal migration—an important requirement made by the European Union before Moldova is granted a visa liberalization regime ( After the Brussels negotiations, however, Moldova announced that its parliament would consider removing travel restrictions on Transnistrians with Russian or Ukrainian passports (

Despite these seemingly positive steps, it is unlikely that the negotiations will be accelerated any further in the near term.  On the one hand, Moldova is taking a wait-and-see approach to the 5+2 talks, both to keep from irritating Russia and because Chisinau hopes to move a step closer to signing an Association Agreement with the European Union at the upcoming EU Vilnius summit. On the other hand, Moldova has legally restricted itself to taking small steps toward reengaging with Transnistria—Chisinau’s budget for these efforts is only $337,340 for the second half of 2013. Other than the creation of a Moldova-Transnistria informational video, as well as the purchase of supplies for forces sent to patrol the Security Zone, Moldova’s government has limited itself to installing street lights in eight border villages and renovating select buildings (Monitorul Official al Republicii Moldova, No. 212, September 24). As this strategy of small steps continues, it is unlikely that it will result in any large achievements at the next 5+2 talks in Kyiv this month.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cossack Participation in Elections May Destabilize Russia

By Paul Goble

Two weeks ago, the Russian Presidential Council of Cossack Affairs officially gave its blessing to the formation of Cossack “druzhinniki” patrol units, many of which have already been formed, and to the formation of Cossack political parties for participating in regional and municipal elections. To legitimize its decision, the Council cited the provisions of the Kremlin’s strategy document for the development of Russian Cossackry up to 2020 that was approved in September 2012 (

How fast these decisions will be implemented is an open question—the Council indicated that some will occur in 2014–2015 and others only after that time. And because they will require changes in Russian law, it is almost certain that they will generate opposition among both ethnic-Russian and non-Russian groups who will object to Cossacks having a right that other nationalities lack. Furthermore, some will fear that such parties could become a Trojan horse for extremist elements in Russia. Kremlin efforts to secure such laws are, therefore, likely to provoke demands from Russians and non-Russians alike that they too should be given the right to form ethnically-based parties.

The decision of the Presidential Council on Cossack Affairs to allow Cossacks to form political parties and participate in local and regional elections could prove even more destabilizing to the Russian Federation than the involvement of Cossacks in patrolling Russian cities. First, many non-Russians view the Cossacks as a Russian force. They will thus likely see the emergence of such parties as akin to allowing the Russians the right to form an ethnically based political party—something nationalities in the Russian Federation are now blocked from doing. Second, many Russians will be radicalized by this step because they are certain to view the nationalist Cossacks as the closest thing the Russian nation can have to a party defined by nationality in the Russian Federation. And third, many Cossacks will view Moscow’s support in this area as another step toward their recognition as a separate nationality, something many of them seek but have so far been denied.

In the early 1990s, there were many ethnically based parties in non-Russian regions and republics, but these were gradually squeezed out of the legal space of the Russian Federation. These nationality-based parties were not necessarily viewed as a direct threat to the country’s territorial integrity, but rather it was argued their existence provoked discussions that ethnic Russians needed a party of their own—something many ethnic Russians still believe. The formation of such an ethnic-Russian party would likely have made the country ungovernable.

By allowing the Cossacks to form a party and to participate in local and regional elections, Moscow has reopened this issue, all the more so because ethnic tensions are greater now than they have been at any time since 1991. Furthermore, the Cossacks, having been given this right, have indicated that they want to compete for seats in the Russian Duma, something the Kremlin has not agreed to and probably will not. Thus, on that third front as well, Moscow faces new problems because of a decision that was made without a clear understanding of its implications.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Arguments in Favor of Russia Becoming Nation-State Put Forward by Kremlin-Sponsored Analyst

By Valery Dzutsev

In what appears to be the latest reaction to Ukraine’s drift toward the European Union, a Russian analyst is now arguing that the Russian Federation should reject its imperial tendencies and embrace the identity of a nation-state. Kirill Rodionov, a fellow at the Russian Academy of National Economy under the Russian President, outlines six steps to recast the country into nation-state. First, he argues, Russia should officially be declared a mono-ethnic state that contains some poly-ethnic regions. About 81 percent of the country’s population is composed of ethnic Russians, according to Rodionov. Second, “the transition of Russia from an empire to a nation-state cannot take place without the secession of the Islamic republics of the North Caucasus—Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia—that culturally belong to the Middle Eastern civilization [sic].” Third, a particularly stringent visa regime should be introduced between Russia and the countries of the South Caucasus and Central Asia in order to retain Russia as a country with a Russian culture. Fourth, Rodionov argues, all integrationist supranational structures in the former Soviet space, such as the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), should be disbanded. Fifth, ethnic Russians who reside abroad in former Soviet republics should receive opportunities to assume Russian citizenship, while those Russian passports that were distributed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia should be declared void. Sixth, the asymmetry of the Russian regions—oblasts, republics, autonomous regions, etc.—should be abolished, rendering all regions equal in status. These steps, according to the analyst will allow Ukraine and a nation-state Russia to cooperate with each other on an equal footing, thus preventing a further split between the two nations (

Rodionov’s affiliation at the Russian Academy of National Economy under the Russian President is certainly a sign that Russian isolationist ideas have gained some traction among the country’s ruling elite. Once again, just as it happened back in 1991, Ukraine’s move away from Russia may inadvertently lead to tectonic changes in Russia’s domestic policies as well as Russians’ view of the other countries of the former Soviet Union. Independently of Kyiv’s own reorientation, internal developments in the Russian Federation have rendered the idea of a Russian Empire somewhat burdensome to the country’s masses. While the calls to shed imperial past do not necessarily dictate the prevailing mood in the Kremlin now, if Ukraine moves decisively toward the EU and the Russian economy continues to stagnate, these ideas are likely to grow stronger and result in sweeping domestic political reforms.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Russian-Led Customs Union More Likely than EU to Islamicize Ukraine

By Paul Goble

Russians opposed to Kyiv’s plans to pursue a European rather than Eurasian vector in its foreign policy have raised the specter of all kinds of apocalyptic consequences for Ukraine if it does so. They have suggested that Ukraine will suffer economic collapse, that Russia will “revise” Ukrainian borders, and that the European Union will strip off Crimea and other regions from Kyiv’s control. But no more outrageous and flat out wrong prediction has been offered than the notion that if Ukraine integrates with Europe, that country will be overwhelmed by Arab and Islamic immigrants from the Middle East.

A clear example of this form of Russian disinformation is provided by Archpriest Yevgeny Maksimenko of the Dneprpetrovsk bishopric of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. In an article in a local newspaper that was picked up and disseminated by Russia’s Interfax news agency, Father Yevgeny says that Ukraine must not join Europe because to do so would mean that it would fill up with Europe’s “castoffs” and rapidly become “Islamicized” as have European cities (

In fact, just the reverse is certain to be the case. A vast majority of Ukraine’s perhaps two million Muslim nationality residents are Azerbaijanis or Central Asians who have moved to Ukraine for work. The indigenous Crimean Tatars number fewer than a third of a million, and other groups, including Lithuanian Tatars and ethnic Ukrainian converts to Islam, only in the hundreds. The Muslim workers from the Caucasus and Central Asia are there because of visa-free travel among member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). If Ukraine were to join the Moscow-led Customs Union or the Eurasian Union, their numbers and share of the population of Ukraine would likely increase because of higher wages in Ukrainian industries.

But if Ukraine pursues a partnership with the European Union, exactly the opposite trends will be observed. Ukraine will undoubtedly introduce visa requirements for citizens of CIS states in order to move toward visa-free travel with EU countries. As a result, many of the Muslim guest workers in Ukraine are likely to return home, reducing the overall number of Muslims there. And, perhaps most important, because Ukraine will still have sufficient labor to man its factories and because wages in Ukraine are much lower than those in the EU, few people from Arab countries or other parts of the Muslim world will have any incentive to travel there.

The only positive thing about Russian suggestions to the contrary is that they do direct attention to Ukraine’s relatively small but vibrant Muslim community. There are several hundred mosques, several muftiates, and now even a Ukrainian-language translation of the Koran. And Kyiv has just announced that 160 Muslims from Ukraine will make the haj this year, about 1 percent of the number who will do so from the Russian Federation, which is casting itself as the defender of Ukraine from Islam (;;;

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Dagestanis Put up Monument to Those Who Fought Russian Empire

By Paul Goble

When Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov dedicated a monument to women who died in the fight against Russian imperial expansion in the Caucasus in the 19th century, that action attracted a great deal of attention in Moscow and around the world (see EDM, September 26). But without much fanfare, Dagestan’s Shamil Center for Humanitarian Research has erected a monument in Gunib “in memory of heroic popular actions in the Caucasus War [1817–1864],” with the words inscribed in Russian and Arabic—a move that is likely to have even greater resonance in the North Caucasus than Kadyrov’s (

Until last week, there was not a single monument of any kind in Dagestan “devoted to the historic events of the 19th century,” according to Khadzhimurad Donogo. “Five people from our center,” he said, collected funds, ordered the monument and put it up. They chose to erect it in Gunib because that is where Shamil was forced to end his resistance struggle: Some consider that he surrendered and was taken prisoner, others that he took part in negotiations. But [however it was] the war ended here.”

Asked by whether he and his compatriots feared accusations of separatism or exacerbating inter-ethnic tensions, Donogo said that he supposed the interviewer “had in mind the history with the Chechen monument. “But what is separatist about this? This is simply a reminder of the heroic struggle of the people. Why should there be memorials for the Great Fatherland War [World War II] and the [Russian] Civil War [1917–1922] but none for the Caucasian War?”

Gadzhimurad Sagirov, the editor of Makhachkala’s Novoye Delo newspaper, agreed. Putting up such a memorial, he said, “does not have as its goal setting at odds the sides who participated in the Caucasus War and does not have any political subtext. It was done so that people, especially the young, the rising generation, will know their history and the past of their region, Dagestan and Russia.”

Whatever the intent of those who put up this modest monument, the comments of those who read the story suggest that many people in that republic see the monument as something more—or at least are investing it with meanings that simultaneously reflect the anger of Dagestanis at the Russian occupation and are likely to provoke even more in the future.

One online reply to the article suggested that “a hundred years from now, a monument will be put up to the present-day participant of the Caucasus war” and suggested that the memorial erected now needed to be clearer in whether it was to “the occupiers or the occupied.” Another suggested that the monument should have more “justly” carried the words “In memory [of] the heroic popular actions in the Caucasus War with the Russian-Fascist Usurpers.” And a third suggested that one should remember that Dagestan, and the North Caucasus more generally, had suffered from more than just Russian conquerors.

But perhaps the most thoughtful comment came from another reader who suggested that the war of monuments in the North Caucasus will continue, with the Cossacks seeking to put up more memorials to General Alexei Yermolov—the Imperial Russian military commander who conquered the Caucasus—and the Circassians a monument to their “genocide” at the hands of the Russians in Sochi.