Monday, April 28, 2014

Russian Neo-Nazis Mark Hitler’s Birthday With Violence

By Richard Arnold

Every year on Adolf Hitler’s birthday, neo-Nazis around the world engage in actions designed to “celebrate” the Fuhrer’s entry into the world on April 20. Russian neo-Nazis have been no exception to this trend and, in the past, have engaged in a number of attacks against ethnic minorities during this day. In 2013, for instance, Russian neo-Nazis killed a non-Slav in a racially motivated attack in St. Petersburg, and a number of soccer teams unveiled banners congratulating the Fuhrer on his birthday or held up signs with other provocative slogans (see EDM, April 29, 2013). Violence on Hitler’s birthday was at its peak between 2006 and 2009, so unsurprisingly the more recent drop in intensity of violence mirrors the general decline in the skinhead movement in Russia and its shift toward merging with soccer hooligan groups. However, April 20, 2014, promised to be interesting given Russian military adventures in Ukraine.

With regard to Ukraine, April 20 saw the killings of pro-Russian activists supposedly by Ukrainian far-right Pravvyi Sektor militants who left a “calling card” announcing their responsibility (see EDM, April 24). While many argue that these killings were orchestrated by the Kremlin, the fact that they happened on April 20 lends at least slight credence to the Kremlin’s protestations. On the other hand, this could also have been why April 20 in particular was chosen as the day for the Kremlin to put its controlled groups to work in Ukraine. Similarly, while both sides in the Ukrainian conflict have accused the other of being anti-Semites, one openly Nazi organization in Slovyansk allied itself with Russia by criticizing the Kyiv “Zionist Junta” and celebrating the detention of an African American journalist (, supposedly a spy sent to Ukraine by the “American paymasters.” This claim, along with the false allegation that Jews would be forced to register in eastern Ukraine (, fits a Russian pattern of provocative actions which are designed to blacken the name of the Kyiv authorities. Such moves suggest the Russian government is impatient for developments in Ukraine that would justify further aggression. Thus it may be inferred that the momentum of the crisis is clearly important to the Russian authorities.

Within Russia itself, the most widely publicized report of a crime on Hitler’s birthday this year was attempted arson on a police station in Chelyabinsk. Skinheads threw two Molotov cocktails at the police prefecture ( The choice of this target fits a broader redirection of neo-Nazi attacks toward the state itself rather than ethnic minorities that the state is judged to be protecting. While this shift in focus goes back at least two years, it may also be a consequence of the fact that the national government has increasingly occupied the ideological space of the ethno-nationalist right. As the regime’s legitimating ideology is now nationalism, neo-Nazi groups have to create some difference between themselves and the regime or risk fading into irrelevance. A lesser-reported attack by skinheads on Hitler’s birthday came in Moscow’s Yasnevo region when 150 youth performed a pogrom on the market stalls of between 17 and 20 traders from Azerbaijan ( Ten of the traders have since been reported as injured, although none has needed to go to the hospital.

Hitler’s birthday in 2014 may not have seen a large number of neo-Nazi attacks, and certainly nothing to justify the pre-emptive moves providing protection for ethnic minorities in years past (see EDM, April 15, 2013); but this does not mean the neo-Nazi threat has vanished from Russia. Indeed, many observers note that people with these sentiments have joined violent soccer fan groups. Whatever the truth, Russian neo-Nazis are sure to be invigorated by the ethnically discriminatory policies of the Russian state as it continues to instigate agitation in the eastern portion of Ukraine.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Non-Russian Countries Growing Ever More Non-Russian, Reducing Moscow’s Soft Power Options

By Paul Goble

Moscow has sought to rely on ethnic Russians and some non-titular nationalities in the former Soviet republics as a means of exerting influence on the governments of those now independent states. But that “soft power” option is increasingly less available as these countries become more ethnically homogeneous with the exit or dying out of the ethnic-Russian communities, the growing share of the population formed by the titular nationalities, as well as the ever greater role played by neighboring states whose own majority nationalities form co-ethnic minorities in these countries. All these trends—and the fact that they are leaving Moscow with fewer options besides economic power or the direct use of coercive force—are suggested by newly released data from and about Kyrgyzstan.

According to Kyrgyzstan’s Statistics Committee, the population of that country has grown by 8 percent over the last five years and now stand at approximately 5.7 million. The share of ethnic Russians has declined slightly; and the fraction occupied by Uzbeks and certain other nationalities has gone up. Meanwhile, the ethnic-Kyrgyz share of the population has continued to increase, rising from 71 percent in 2010 to 72.6 percent at the beginning of this year (

Over this five-year period, Kyrgyzstani officials said, the number of ethnic Kyrgyz increased by 10 percent, slightly more than the population as a whole and slightly less than the 14 percent increase registered by ethnic Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan but in stark contrast to the ethnic Russians there whose numbers continued to decline, albeit less rapidly than in the 1990s, and now stand at 375,400. Moreover, the Russian community increasingly consists of older people rather than those of working age and thus is less influential than it was in the past.

The rise of ethnic Uzbeks is especially striking and has given Tashkent—but not Moscow, as was the case in Soviet times—significant leverage on Bishkek. Indeed, one cannot make sense of the unrest of the last several years in the southern portion of the country without taking into account the rise of the Uzbek minority and Uzbekistan’s interest in using it in order to extract more water and deference from Kyrgyzstan.

According to the Bishkek statisticians, there are also five other ethnic groups who now make up part of the Kyrgyz Republic’s citizenry: 63,000 Dungans, 51,000 Uighurs, 40,000 Turks, 49,000 Tajiks and 33,400 Kazakhs. The first three of these, along with the Chinese who reside in Kyrgyzstan but are not citizens and thus were not counted in this enumeration, are deeply involved in Bishkek’s relationship with Beijing, often creating problems for the former and sometimes offering opportunities for the latter. The Tajiks and Kazakhs, in turn, often look to Dushanbe or Astana and are influenced by those capitals. They do not look to Moscow as they might have in the past.

Demography, of course, is not destiny except in the very long term, but such changes over the last five years are having an impact on power relations and especially in the current climate on Moscow’s apparent interest in using hard power now that its soft power options are declining.

Ukrainian Crisis Update: Special Operation Shows Promise

By Maksym Bugriy

The central government’s counter-terrorism operation against separatists in Ukraine’s southeastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions has shown the first signs of success. Notably, Ukrainian government forces, which included the military as well as police and security agencies special forces, were able to defend the airfield in Kramatorsk against separatists attack. During the operation, a Ukrainian Su-27 fighter jet circled over the airfield and opened fire on the attacking pro-Russian militants. The resoluteness exhibited by the Ukrainian military and police must have had a visible effect as the separatists reportedly left the seized Kramatorsk police station building and will probably also leave the town administration office to avoid further police assaults (

The Ukrainian force involved in the counter-terrorism operation employed security professionals to streamline the management of the response. Such was the appointment of former KGB veteran terrorism expert and operative General Vasily Krutov, one of the first senior officers of the Ukrainian Security Service’s (SBU) elite “A” counter-terrorism unit ( General Krutov knows his trade well: he is KGB-trained and also participated in an operation to free 22 Ukrainian hostages from Somali pirates in 2005. Previously, he has served as president of the International Counter-Terrorist Unity organization, which brought together many former Soviet KGB and GRU (Chief Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense) special forces officers. Thus, General Krutov’s current appointment is also a deterrence signal to his former peers at Russia’s security services.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian counter-intelligence leaked an April 14 recording of an alleged GRU officer in Slovyansk with his Moscow coordinator, which suggested that “reinforcements” to eastern Ukraine were expected. According to the audiotape, the Moscow handler tasked his Slovyansk operative with achieving two new political objectives: 1.) immediate governor elections to replace the pro-Kyiv governors currently in place in eastern Ukraine; and 2.) banning the Ukrainian parliament from being allowed to attract international loans without consent from regional governors ( This is a clear case of attempted economic warfare aimed at preventing Ukraine from receiving vital International Monetary Fund (IMF) financing. Remarkably, Ukrainian Pravda identified the Moscow-based coordinator as possibly a Russian political consultant who was involved in Russia’s Crimean operation ( This draws a direct connection between what is currently happening in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s previous tactics in Crimea.

Further Russian moves should be expected. On April 15, Vladimir Putin had phone conversations with the leaders of Israel ( and Germany ( as well as United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon ( In all these conversations, Putin lambasted the Ukrainian government’s counter-terrorism operation in its eastern regions and the Russian leader issued warnings about a brewing “civil war” in Ukraine. Politically, Russia may try to present a strong case against Ukraine during the Geneva four-party talks scheduled for April 17. Further unconventional and provocative military operations by Russia against Ukraine are, of course, also possible. But any such moves would entirely preclude the possibility of holding the Geneva negotiations this week.

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Russian Flag Over Gagauzia

By Paul Goble

A group of pro-Moscow Gagauz activists have raised the Russian flag in their capital city of Komrat, on March 15, in support of the Crimean “referendum” Moscow organized and are insisting that Gagauzia—an autonomous region of Moldova populated by the Gagauz, an Orthodox Christian Turkic people—should have the same right as Crimea or Kosovo to hold a referendum on independence, especially given that the Moldovan government is pursuing a pro-Western and anti-Russian policy that closely resembles the Ukrainian Maidan and against which the Gagauz like the people of Crimea have protested. 

One Gagauz leader, Ilya Uzun, a deputy in that nationality’s Popular Assembly, told the group that he was “glad that such an enormous country [as Russia] has a president like Vladimir Putin. Everything that there is in our land was built by the Russian people and by our people,” not the Moldovans. And consequently the Gagauz have every right not only to speak in defense of the Crimean people and their choice but to demand a referendum on their own future status (

That is all the more so, he and other speakers at the weekend meeting said, because Chisinau has repeatedly declared that it “does not recognize” the Crimean vote, that it considers it “illegal,” and that it supports “the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

When analysts focus on separatist challenges to Moldova, they not surprisingly devote almost all of their attention to the breakaway republic of Transnistria, an enclave with a Slavic majority, even though Moldovans outnumber either ethnic Russians or ethnic Ukrainians there, and one that has by its alliance with Moscow and its selling off of Soviet-era arms dumps to various groups around the world sustained itself since 1991.  The Gagauz are mentioned, if at all, only in passing.

In addition to the political resources of Tiraspol, there are three reasons for this. First, the Gagauz are far smaller in number, with a total population estimates at around 200,000. Second, they live not in a single compact area but are dispersed among other ethnic groups, including Moldovans, in a region about 130 kilometers southeast of Chisinau. And third, their political activism has almost perfectly tracked that of Trans-Dniestria, simultaneously highlighting the extent to which the Gagauz are very much a Moscow project directed against the Moldovan state and justifying in the minds of many ignoring this group.

But now that Putin has thrown the dice in Crimea and signaled that he has no intention of respecting the sovereignty and integrity of any of the former Soviet republics or then-occupied Baltic states, there are three reasons why the Gagauz should receive more attention.  First, because they can be so easily put in play, Moscow may use them to overload the capacity of Chisinau to respond in a crisis. Second, because they are a Turkic people, the Russian authorities may use declarations of support for them to cover a new wave of repression against the Crimean Tatars.  And third, because Turkey thus far has not been able to do very much for the Crimean Tatars, Ankara may want to do even more for the Gagauz, a group with which it has close ties.  That sets the stage for the kind of conflict that could easily get out of hand.