Daily Archives: September 1, 2007

September 1, 2007 — Contents


(1) Ethnic Russians in Ukraine have no Use for Russia

(2) The Kremlin is More Dangerous than Skinheads

(3) Russian Smears Against Estonia

(4) The Sham they Call the Russian Military

NOTE: If you have not read it yet, be sure not to miss our Editorial on the arrests in the Politkovskaya case, which lays out the outrageous nature of the Kremlin’s assault on the dignity of Anna’s memory as it struggles to pin the blame, yet again, on Boris Berezovsky. One has to wonder whether the Kremlin is at all serious about incarcerating him, since if it did it would lose its ever-ready scapegoat for its atrocities. It’s important for the facts to be distributed as widely and emphatically as possible.

Ethnic Russians in Ukraine Have No Use for Russia

Blogger Paul Goble says that so-called “ethnic Russians” living in Ukraine have no use for Moscow; they’ve not forgotten the bad old Soviet days.

Ethnic Russians in Ukraine are overwhelmingly loyal to Kyiv, a reflection of both their experiences at the end of the Soviet period and the strides the Ukrainian government has made to create a political rather than ethnic nation in that country, according to a leading Moscow specialist on ethnic issues. Consequently, Sergei Markedonov argues in an article posted online this week, Moscow’s continuing efforts to exploit what many Russian officials and still believe is a significant dividing line within Ukraine are doomed to fail and may even backfire.

On the one hand, Markedonov’s conclusions resemble those of Kremlin aide Modest Kolerov who in June 2006 urged that Moscow recognize that “there are no pro-Russian forces in the post-Soviet space” and that those who present themselves as such are marginal figures who lack any support in the countries where they now live. But on the other, the Moscow analyst’s remarks this week are a significant extension of those ideas because they directly address the situation in Ukraine, a country that, in Markedonov’s words, has always occupied “a special role” in Russian thinking and “Soviet nostalgia.”

The creation of Ukraine in its current borders, Markedonov reminds his readers, was the work of Joseph Stalin who added the six western oblasts to the Ukrainian SSR at the end of World War II and Nikita Khrushchev who transferred Crimea to Ukraine in 1954. As a result, Ukraine even in Soviet times had an ethnically diverse population, and Ukraine itself represented “an imagined community,” one in which ethnic Ukrainians for nationalist reasons and ethnic Russians there as the result of their specific life experiences with Russians from the RSFSR found a great deal of common ground. Ukrainian nationalist sympathies in the late Soviet period are well-known, but Markedonov offers an interesting detail: Vitaliy Shelest’, the son of Ukrainian party boss Pyotr Shelest, repeatedly read and accepted most of the arguments of Ivan Dzyuba’s classic “Internationalism or Russification.”

But what the Moscow analyst says about ethnic Russians in the Ukrainian SSR is even more important. Markedonov, a native of Rostov, said that in the 1970s and 1980s, ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine were horrified by and viewed themselves as very different than the RSFSR Russians who traveled there to buy food. And those experiences rather than some misplaced optimism about the future explain why ethnic Russians in the eastern portions of Ukraine voted for the independence of that country from the Soviet Union almost as enthusiastically as ethnic Ukrainians did. Such attitudes, however, might not have mattered much if the post-Soviet Ukrainian leadership had sought an émigré-based ethnic national state, as some Ukrainians hoped. But instead, Kyiv has actively promoted the creation of “a political Ukrainian nation,” one with a place for ethnic Russians as well as ethnic Ukrainians. This process, Markedonov continues, is “far from its completion,” but he argues that Moscow must recognize and base its policies toward Kyiv on the reality that over the last 16 years, “the Kyiv elite has been able to do a great deal to overcome the ethno-cultural split of the country.” By acting in this way, the Moscow analyst says, Ukrainian leaders have been able to prevent their country from falling into the difficulties in which Georgia or even Moldova have found themselves and “what is most important” have been able to “create the traditions of a civilized transfer of power and the achievement of compromises.”

Since 1991, Ukraine has had three presidents. It has had even more prime ministers. And it has a political system in which compromise has been enshrined as a political virtue, something not found in many other post-Soviet states, including the Russian Federation. As a result, Markedonov concludes, “the state in Ukraine exists, and a single political nation has become to be formed.” And the sooner that people in Moscow understand this, the batter” instead of continuing to pursue policies based on assumptions that are no longer true if they ever were.

The Russian Government: More Dangerous than Skinheads

Blogger Paul Goble reveals new data showing that the Kremlin is a bigger threat to Russia’s racial minorities than the skinheads. In the now-we’ve-seen-it-all department, Goble also documents two freakishly stupid Russian pundits making wildly disparate suggestions: One says America is going to disintegrate because it has Texas, and the other says Russia should get its own Texas.

Foreigners working in the Russian Federation are far from likely to be mistreated by government officials and employers than they are to be attacked by skinheads and other Russian nationalist groups, according to a poll of Tajiks now living in Tajikistan with direct experience in the past of work in Russia. Earlier this summer, Bashkirov and Partn pollsters surveyed 1500 adults in Tajikistan. The agency reported its results last Friday, and they were analyzed in an article in Novyye Izvestiya. Out of its initial sample, 59.2 percent said that either they personally and/or members of their families had traveled to the Russian Federation to seek employment. The roughly 900 who had were then asked whether they had encountered situations in which they or their family members were treated with a lack of respect.

More than half of these – 53.3 percent – said they had been treated badly by officials, particularly militiamen and immigration authorities. Slightly fewer said that they had been maltreated by their employers, many of whom, the Tajiks said, felt they could treat a foreigner less well than a Russian one. But far fewer Tajiks surveyed in this poll indicated that they had encountered “threats from nationalist elements” – only 11.5 percent – or physical abuse from those groups – 11.5 percent of the total. Only 23.9 percent said that they had not encountered any mistreatment or lack of respect from the Russians they encountered. Despite its limitations – the survey focused on only one nationality and on those with past rather than present experience – the findings of this poll are, as “Novyye izvestiya” has already suggested, almost certainly representative of Russian behavior towards non-Russian guest workers in general or at least those from Muslim countries.

Given that there are now five million or more of such workers in the Russian Federation – the exact numbers are a matter of intense political dispute — these results suggest three general conclusions:

First, as many human rights activists have said in the past, Russian officials and especially Russian militiamen remain a serious threat to ethnic peace in the Russian Federation, despite the Kremlin’s repeated claims that social marginals rather than its own policies are to blame for current tensions.

Second, Russian nationalist groups, as odious and disturbing as the actions many of them often are, have not yet become as significant a generalized threat to all non-Russian groups inside the Russian Federation that some commentaries have suggested – at least as compared to what the Russian authorities themselves are doing.

And third, the bad experiences non-Russians continue to have with Russian officials Russian employers not only will make it more difficult for Moscow to attract new workers from neighboring states but also serve as yet another force driving the Russian Federation and these countries apart.

Russian Smears Against Estonia

The always brilliant Edward Lucas exposes the egregious litany of smears being lobbed by barbaric Russia at little Estonia:

READ the Russian-language internet, and you will find Estonia portrayed as a hell-hole ruled by Nazi sympathisers who organise a grotesque form of apartheid hypocritically endorsed by the European Union. “Nazi” and “apartheid” are strong words that should be used sparingly and precisely out of their original context—and probably not at all. (A good rule in most discussions is that the first person to call the other a Nazi automatically loses the argument.)

So it may be worth listing a few of the more grotesque unfairnesses and inaccuracies of the charge. Apartheid was the legally enforced separation of the peoples of South Africa, based on race (or more accurately, skin colour). Mingling of the races, from intermarriage to mixed swimming, was forbidden. Pass laws meant that blacks could not live in white areas. Apartheid was backed up by a ruthless secret police that on occasion murdered people, and had no hesitation in enforcing house arrest and exile.

Nazi sympathisers idolise Hitler, think that Jews invented the Holocaust (or, sometimes, that they deserved what they got), and believe that National Socialism was a glorious ideology destroyed by Judaeo-Bolshevism.

Absolutely none of that applies to Estonia. Not only do the authorities not prohibit contact between Estonians and Russians, they encourage it. Russians and Estonians mix freely everywhere. Some of Estonia’s top politicians, including the president and the leader of one of the main political parties have Russian family ties.

Estonians look back on the Nazi occupation with loathing. Their country was caught between the hammer and the anvil in 1939, and whatever they did, only suffering and destruction awaited them.

What really annoys the Kremlin crowd is that Estonians (like many others in eastern Europe) regarded the arrival of the Red Army in 1944-45 not as a liberation, but as the exchange of one ghastly occupation for another. That flatly contradicts the Kremlin’s revived Stalinist version of history, which puts Soviet wartime heroism and sacrifice at centre-stage, while assiduously obscuring all the historical context. Given how the Soviet Union treated Estonia in 1939-41, it is hardly surprising that those who fought the occupiers when they returned are regarded as heroes. But they were not Nazis, nor are those who admire them now.

Secondly, Estonians (like Latvians and Lithuanians) do not accept that their pre-war statehood was ever extinguished. Russia may like to think that the Soviet Union magnanimously granted independence to the three “Soviet Baltic Republics” in 1991. But the Balts see it differently: they regained their independence. In that view they are confirmed, more or less enthusiastically, by most western countries, which never recognised the Soviet annexation of 1940, and in some cases continued to accredit Baltic diplomats in dusty and deserted embassies.

On that basis, the hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens who moved to the Baltic from the 1950s onwards were migrants settling illegally in occupied territories. Post-Soviet Lithuania granted them citizenship automatically. But Estonia and Latvia, where the demographic position was more precarious, insisted that they apply for citizenship if they wanted it, and pass a simple test in language and history.

This was not about ethnicity: Russians who lived in Estonia before the occupation (then around 10% of the population) and their descendants regained citizenship automatically. And it has worked rather well. Nearly 150,000 people have gained Estonian citizenship; only 8.5% remain stateless.

Fifteen years on, Estonia’s policy may be too tough, or just right, or even too lax. Compared to most European countries’ citizenship laws, it is quite generous. In any event, calling it “apartheid” is not only nonsensical, but stupidly insulting, to a country that has responded with intelligence and restraint to a devastating historical injury.

The Sham they Call the Russian Military

Streetwise Professor exposes the fundamental fraud that is the Russian armed forces:

No, the title of this post is not a reference to Putin’s recent Village People audition pix. Instead, it is a reference to some other Macho-Macho Man performances, namely the resumption of Soviet–sorry–Russian strategic bomber sorties, overflights of Georgia, military exercises with China, boasts about new strategic weaponry, and announcements of dramatic increases in purchases of armaments for the Russian military.

My first reaction to these events is to recall Marx’s remark that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. This analysis by Alexander Goltz, an independent military expert, hits very close to the mark:

“Now our military leaders have enough money to create a kind of caricature of the Soviet armed forces, and they want to do a lot of the same old things,” says Alexander Goltz, military expert with the independent online magazine Yezhednevny Zhurnal. “But their plans are a confused mixture of realistic goals and unworkable Soviet-style symbolism,” says Mr. Goltz.

Indeed, Mr. Goltz is too kind: there are many more parts Soviet-style symbolism in the mixture than realistic goals. What Talleyrand said of the Bourbons seems to fit the Russian military-industrial complex: they have learned nothing, and they have forgotten nothing. The world has moved very far since 1991, and few things have moved farther than military technology and doctrine. But Putin and his military coterie seem locked in the Disco Days of the 1970s.

There are many reasons to believe that there is much more Pose than Power in Putin’s recent moves. Although Putin is spending a good deal of the energy price windfall on the military, there is serious reason to doubt he is getting much bang for his buck–or should it be rumble for his ruble?

Take, for instance, the much touted Bulava SLBM program–the cornerstone of the revitalization of Russia’s strategic forces. This program has been plagued by test failures, which have been widely publicized despite concerted efforts to conceal them. The missile’s designer attributed these failures to “the progressive degradation of the Russian defense industry.”

Nor are the Bulava’s problems the only symptoms of this degradation. Russia has failed in its contract to refurbish one of the Soviet’s old aircraft carriers sold to India. The head of arms export monopolist Rosoboronexport concedes that the company “encountering colossal problems fulfilling existing export contracts and are withholding from signing some new ones, because we cannot figure how they may be fulfilled.” I have also read [desperately searching the link–will provide when I find it] that throwing money at the Russian defense establishment has not succeeded in leading to increases in output–just increases in prices. [This may well be the idea–more on this below.] That is, due to the decay in Russia’s capacity to produce advanced weapons (which is due, in part, to the fact that the Soviet defense establishment had pieces spread throughout the republics, and no single republic had a self-sufficient defense production establishment), massive investment is needed to make it possible to ramp up the output of new weapons. It should also be noted that even if Russia succeeds in cranking up output, it will be producing weapons that are at least a generation behind American ones. The MIG-29 and SU-30 are good aircraft–comparable to the F-15–but a generation behind the F-22 and F-35.

And to put things in perspective, only recently did Russian GDP return to 1991 levels. Moreover, in the 1980s the USSR spent a far larger fraction of its GDP on the military than Russia does now. (Just how much is a mystery. Guesses range from between 20 percent and 40 percent–or more.) In that time, US GDP has grown by over 60 percent. The burden of competing with the United States destroyed the Soviet economy, and Putin (and his would-be successors) have to know that an attempt to devote Soviet level fractions of the economy to the military would be similarly disastrous. So, no matter how much oil money Russia has, it cannot devote a similar fraction of GDP to the military as the Soviets did, and what’s more, Russia’s economy is much smaller relative to the US than it was in 1991. Thus, Russia’s fundamental situation with regards to military competition is substantially weaker than the Soviet situation was in the 1980s. And we know how well that worked out, don’t we Vlad? Any attempt to compete seriously is seriously deranged–which is another reason why I believe that a lot of the recent events are more bravado and posin’ than a serious attempt to close the military gap.

But wait. It gets better! (Or worse, depending on your perspective.) Russia’s main problem is not hardware–it is software. That is, as debilitating as Russia’s defense industry’s shortcomings are, its main military weakness is the quality of its people. As dazzling as American military technology is, it is widely understood that the quality and training of American soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen is what makes the US armed forces far and away the best in the world. It is also widely understood that the quality of Russian conscript soldiers is very poor, and that they are poorly trained and suffer from poor morale (except in some special units). The conditions that Russian conscripts face are truly horrific. Hazing by “grandfathers”–that is, by last years recruits, who were brutalized by the previous year’s recruits, who were brutalized . . .–is institutionalized. Any young Russian male who can escape conscription does so, by hook, or by crook. As a result, the Russian Army is disproportionately manned by misfits. Moreover, brutal treatment is hardly conducive to high morale, and a desire to stay in the service. Short term conscripts have little time, and less incentive, to master the demands of the modern battlefield. (This problem may become even worse, as Russia plans to reduce conscript terms from two years to one–or just enough time for unmotivated soldiers to learn how to put on their uniforms and point their weapons in the right direction.) The Russian Army is a conscript force rather than a professional one like the current US military. And professionalism matters. It matters a lot.

There have been numerous announcements of plans to replace the Russian conscript army with a professional, volunteer force, but these calls to improve the software have recently been drowned out by the chest-thumping announcements of purchases of new hardware. As an illustration, plans to create a professional cadre of non-commissioned officers along the lines of those in the US or British militaries have been pushed further and further into the future. Moreover, a volunteer military faces much opposition from within the Russian military establishment. And perhaps most importantly, the rapid rise in wages in Russia in recent years–a major reason for Putin’s popularity–has made an all volunteer force much more expensive. This increased cost makes it less likely that the transformation to a professional, volunteer force will occur any time soon. It took more than a decade for the US to build a volunteer military. It will take longer for Russia to do that–if it ever starts, which looks increasingly doubtful.

The preference for hardware over software is not uncommon in military establishments. Given the traditional Russian/Soviet officer corps’ view of its soldiery (which makes Wellington’s view of his troops as “the scum of the earth” look benign by comparison), this bias is likely even stronger in Moscow. Moreover, spending money on a volunteer military offers very few opportunities to direct large quantities of money to siloviki, but I imagine many of the rubles raining on Russian defense manufacturers magically make their way into well-connected pockets. (Hence my earlier suggestion that the inflation of prices for hardware is a feature, not a bug.)

In sum, I strongly suspect that the ramp-up of Russian military spending and the Russia’s increasingly aggressive military posture is more for show–a pose. If they are not, they are symptomatic of serious collective delusions in Russia’s military and foreign policy establishments. Objectively, even with the oil and gas windfall, Russia is in no position to compete seriously in the military sphere. Anyone who believes otherwise is deluded. And given Russia’s serious problems–notably in public health, health care, and demography–it is very sad that so many resources are being wasted on military baubles. Oh, the price that some will pay for appearances.