Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Hitherto Secret Communist Party Documents Corroborate Evidence That Holodomor Was ‘Genocide’

By Paul Goble

It is a hallmark of the post–World War II era: those peoples who have been subject to mass murder, expulsion from their homelands, or other crimes intended to destroy them as an ethnic community have wanted the world to identify what happened to them as a “genocide.” Meanwhile, those who have inflicted such violence have generally done everything they could to deny the charge. This type of denial is often relatively easy because, with a few horrific exceptions, no leader declares in advance that he is planning to commit “genocide.”

Consequently, there is usually a fight between the one side and the other. But definitive evidence is routinely scarce that the actions of one state against an ethnic group or nation rise to the level of “genocide” as first defined by Raphael Lemkin to describe the Holocaust and as codified in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1948.

Even Robert Conquest, in his magisterial study of the Soviet-orchestrated famine in Ukraine, The Harvest of Sorrow (1986), could provide only circumstantial and indirect evidence that what Joseph Stalin did to the Ukrainians was “genocide.” And even though nearly three out of four Ukrainians and most people of good will have been convinced on the basis of his research and that of others that the killing of 4.5 million Ukrainians by organized hunger in 1932–1933 was, indeed, an act of “genocide,” many scholars and governments dispute that. They no longer question, as some did earlier, that there was mass murder, but they argue that it was conducted against a class, the peasantry, and thus does not fall under the definition of “genocide.”

That makes the appearance of documents proving that what the Soviet government did was in fact directed at an ethnic community and therefore genocide especially important. A collection of the originals of such documents is now on public view at the Kyiv Memorial to the Victims of the Holodomor. And both singly and collectively, they show that Moscow systematically carried out a policy of replacing Ukrainians who had died with ethnic Russians and Belarusians, thus transforming the ethnic composition of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and, consequently, its successor, the Republic of Ukraine. Such actions, intended to destroy or at least undermine the existence of the Ukrainian nation fall within the UN definition (Censor.net.ua, May 15, 2015).

The curators of the Kyiv museum are convinced that the documents they have put on view about Moscow’s policies of replacing Ukrainians with Russians and Belarusians not only mean that the Soviet state stands guilty of “genocide,” but also shows that what the Bolsheviks did in that regard almost 90 years ago, “in part explains the separatism in the East of contemporary Ukraine.”

The Censor.net.ua portal posts pictures of some of these documents. And after reading them, it is exceedingly difficult for anyone of good will to avoid these devastating conclusions.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Migration Flows—and Not Just Russian Flight—a Problem for Kazakhstan

By Paul Goble

Almost all discussions about migration to and from Kazakhstan focus on the departure of ethnic Russians and other Russian speakers since 1991. This emigration wave has increased the dominance of the titular nationality there. But while the Russian exodus has cost Kazakhstan some of its more highly educated specialists, it has generally not created the difficulties, including outright violence, sometimes associated with other kinds of migration. Indeed, the return of ethnic Kazakhs from abroad, illegal immigration by various groups the state has been unable to control, and increasingly large migration flows within the country have left some regions without the necessary workforce and imposed untenable burdens on others.

In a new article for the CentrAsia.ru portal, Fazilya Yunsaliyeva says it is important not only to look at these various kinds of migration but also to recognize that what matters in most cases is “not so much their size as their structure and their territorial distribution.” Even small shifts in numbers caused by in- or outmigration can have serious consequences for a place’s ethnic, age and gender distribution (Centrasia.ru, May 6).

Since 1993, the Kazakhstani government has sought to regulate patterns of ethnic migration by means of quotas governing not only how many people may enter the country but also affecting, if not determining, the number leaving or moving from one region to another. And since 2007, Astana has expanded this program to regulate not only ethnic patterns but also the age, gender and skill sets of people on the move. Generally, it has been successful, but not always. And as a result, migration has left some regions without the people they need, and others with new burdens. That reality has sparked tensions and even conflicts that in, several cases, have involved deaths.

Among the most serious migration problems have arisen as a result of the government’s campaign to attract Kazakhs living abroad—a group known in the Kazakh language as “oralmans.” More than 800,000 of them have returned from other countries in Central Asia, China, Mongolia and the Russian Federation, but they have insisted on settling almost exclusively in Kazakhstan’s urban centers, where their skill sets are less in demand. Oralman immigrants have generally refused to move to more rural areas, where they could be put to better use.

This imbalance, Yunsaliyeva says, has sparked conflicts between the oralmans and employers as well as between these newcomers and native-born Kazakhs. On occasion, such situations have “ended in bloodletting,” a euphemism for deaths and serious casualties. But these conflicts have had yet another consequence, prompting many of the oralmans who had come back to Kazakhstan to try to leave, this time often for Russia, Germany and Ukraine. They have also prompted many more ethnic Russians to think about leaving Kazakhstan, further worsening the country’s overall stock of human capital.

Indeed, the journalist says, looking forward one can see that while outmigration to Russia has declined since the highs of the early 1990s, more departures by members of this community are likely, making Kazakhstan more Kazakh but leaving it, for a time at least, without the skilled personnel it needs for modernization.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Centenary of 1916 Central Asian Revolt Likely to Worsen Region’s Relations With Russia

By Paul Goble

One hundred years ago next month, the tsarist administration—which had heretofore excluded Central Asians from the military draft because of its contempt for their abilities as soldiers—was forced by the exigencies of war to announce a draft in the most recently occupied portion of the empire for positions in the Russian military’s rear. That policy reversal sparked a four-month-long popular uprising in which tens of thousands of Central Asians died. But as a result, their sense of national and regional identity grew at the expense of any remaining loyalty to the Russian state. As such, the June 1916 revolt set the stage not only for the Basmachi resistance movement in the 1920s and 1930s but also for the independence of the countries in the region.

Not surprisingly given the centrality of that long-ago event for contemporary Central Asians and the Muslims of the former Soviet space more generally, scholars, commentators and political activists are beginning to put out stories about it. Such stories will inevitably have the effect of reminding Central Asians of the attitudes of Russians toward them and hence exacerbate feelings between the two civilizations. One of the most important of these to have appeared thus far is a study by Tajik historian Kamol Abdullayev, which focuses less on the conflict than on its meaning for today (Fergananews.com, May 12).

While Russia succeeded in crushing the 1916 revolt, he says, it did so only at the cost of enormous political losses. The suppression of the revolt did not strengthen the tsarist officials. Instead, it undermined the authority of those like the jadids (modernist Muslims), who had hoped to work with the Russians and be integrated into Russia on par with European minorities. Furthermore, Petrograd’s crackdown strengthened the influence of those who argued that the only possible Central Asian reaction to Russian rule was militant opposition.

The destruction of a role for the jadids was, in Abdullayev’s opinion, among the most serious consequences of the revolt and its suppression. It meant not only the intensification of national identities and separateness from a broader society but also undermined the prospects for a more peaceful and democratic development of the region’s societies. And that, along with the violence of Russia’s reactions to the revolt, highlighted not the strength of the Russian empire but rather its weakness and its fears.

But the very most important meaning of 1916—one that Central Asians will be focusing on now—he suggests, is that those century-old events represented the moment when the region began to escape its “subordinate colonial position” and become an actor with its own desires and goals that others had to take into account. Unfortunately, Abdullayev says, the divisions that existed among Central Asians in 1916 limited its development in that direction, just as the continued existence of such splits does today.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Words Versus Deeds: Russian Attitudes Toward NATO’s Defensive Preparations in the Baltic

By Alden Wahlstrom

In March 2016, Estonia received its second shipment of FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile systems. The initial shipment was delivered last September (ERR, September 3, 2015). Estonia received the “Block 1” version of the system, the newest model on the market. The updated systems have improved guidance, faster flight times, and can operate at a range up to 2,500 meters. The exact number of systems delivered and the total cost of the purchase was not made public, but the purchase itself was financed out of the $3.4 billion in European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) funding that the United States promised in 2014 (Kommersant, March 22).

According to Estonian Defense Minister Hannes Hanso, building up Estonia’s defense capabilities against tanks and other armored fighting vehicles is a cornerstone of the country’s military strategy. Estonia’s defense budget reflects just how seriously the government takes building up its military capabilities. In February, the Estonian Ministry of Defense announced that it is allocating $818 million for procurement over the next four years (ERR, February 25). This is a significant commitment for a country whose entire 2015 defense budget was just over $450 million.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of conflict in eastern Ukraine have enflamed regional domestic anxiety about territorial integrity, pushing Estonia and its neighbors to boost their defensive capabilities, and it has prompted the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to refocus their attention on securing the Alliance’s eastern flanks. Of the Baltic countries, Estonia is taking the most serious steps toward developing the capabilities necessary to defend itself from invasion. Ruslan Pukhov, the Director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST), a Moscow think tank, thinks that Estonia’s actions need to be taken seriously. In an interview with Kommersant, he said, “unlike other countries in the region, Estonia is seriously preparing for war… and Russia, as the country that these measures are aimed at, needs to respond adequately” (Kommersant, March 22).

Estonia’s push to further develop its military capability poses little real threat to Russia. Russia’s Armed Forces are orders of magnitude larger than the Estonian military in terms of active personnel. With a force of around 750,000 men, the Russian military is larger than one half of Estonia’s entire population. This is not to mention how entirely overwhelming Russia’s military capabilities are in comparison to those of Estonia. Thus, it is unlikely that Estonia itself is the real concern for Russia. Moscow is more focused on NATO’s increased activities in the region—which is itself reacting to Russia’s growing aggression.

In response to Estonia’s Javelin procurement and increased NATO activities in the Baltic, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov recently said, “We need to put an end to spreading horror stories about Russia planning to send tanks into the Baltic States, Sofia, or Budapest. No one is planning to do that. Plans of that sort do not exist” (Lenta.ru, March 24). According to him, Baltic countries are only stoking these fears in order to secure financial support from NATO. However, in reality, Antonov’s remarks reflect the perpetual disconnect between what Russian officials say and what the Russian government does.

Moscow recently announced a major restructuring of its tank forces, which will greatly increase Russia’s force presence in its “Western strategic direction,” along the country’s western border. This restructuring involves changes to the 20th Combined Arms Army and the re-formation of the 1st Tank Army (see EDM, April 5). Disbanded in 1999, the 1st Tank Army played an important role in Russian/Soviet military history. After participating in the Battle of Kursk, the largest tank battle to date and a turning-point victory in the Soviet military campaign in World War II, the 1st Tank Army continued on to help take Berlin in 1945 (Bmpd.livejournal.com, June 1, 2015; Lenta.ru, February 1, 2016). The Soviet Union’s role in helping to defeat Adolf Hitler is a central element of the Russian political myth heavily promoted by Vladimir Putin’s government. Thus, the revival of the 1st Tank Army as part of a broader restructuring—purportedly in response to US and NATO presence along Russia’s border—was certainly not lost on Russian officials or many of their constituents.

But such attempts to portray Russia as a country facing an encroaching threat from the rapid militarization of countries along its border fall flat when contextualized in a timeline of events in the region over the past two years. In fact, the North Atlantic Alliance had significantly drawn down its forces in Europe prior to 2014. But Russia’s subsequent annexation of Crimea, its direct support for separatism in eastern Ukraine, as well as invasion of Donbas—amid claims of defending the “Russian World”—prompted NATO’s expedited return to the region. Under these conditions, Estonia and its neighbors rushed to build up the capacity to defend their territorial integrity.

Estonia’s actions and the actions of NATO as a whole directly counter the narrative that Russia would like to promote about itself at home and abroad. Putin and other high-ranking Russian officials have worked hard to try to portray Russia as a guarantor of global security. Meanwhile, countries across Europe are coming out to name Russia as a top security threat. In early March, Estonia’s defense minister released a report that explicitly named Russia as the singular external force threatening Estonia’s security. Shortly thereafter, Georgia’s President Giorgi Margvelashvili named Russia the top threat to security in the Caucasus. Likewise, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter recently included Russia in a shortlist of top threats to US security (Lenta.ru, March 24). Moreover, these countries are backing their words with action, proving willing to allocate their finite resources, monetary and otherwise, to insure themselves against the danger posed by Russian aggression and revanchism.

Russia’s reaction to the Estonian procurement of Javelins perfectly illustrates the Kremlin’s irritation at having its image challenged in this way. Initially, an undisclosed source from the Russian Ministry of Defense said that talking about Russia invading Estonia is “nonsense” and not worth discussing (Kommersant, March 22). But two days later, Russian Deputy Minister of Defense Anatoly Antonov gave a statement disputing the idea that Russia has plans to invade the Baltic. He continued on to say that Russia’s top priority is preventing the spread of terrorism in Russia and surrounding countries (Rg.ru, March 24). The chairman of the Duma Committee on International Affairs, Aleksei Pushkov, weighed in shortly thereafter, saying that the West is not prepared to partner with Russia in a united anti-terrorism coalition, but instead the West “makes a lot of noise about the necessity to defend the Baltics, which is under no threat, from Moscow” (Rg.ru, March 25). Pushkov’s sentiments reflected the Kremlin line, voiced later by officials in the presidential administration.

Conspicuously, officials in Moscow opted for a strategy of linking the discussion of developments in the Baltic States to the subject of international terrorism. Essentially, this is a continuation of the Kremlin’s informational strategy showcased in Syria. Among Russia’s goals for entering Syria was the desire to promote Russia’s status as an indispensable guarantor of global security and to discredit western claims that Russia is a threat. Thus, by presenting the spread of global terrorism as an alternative danger, Russia is currently trying delegitimize NATO activity in Central and Eastern Europe. In particular, Moscow is painting NATO’s defensive preparations on the Alliance’s eastern flank as a misallocation of resources caused by the West’s misreading of the global threat environment and a broader unwillingness to work with Russia in order to address the “real” risks to international security.

The NATO-Russia Council met on April 20, for the first time since this body was suspended by the Alliance in response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, in 2014. Few had any illusions as to any breakthroughs emerging from this meeting; and indeed, the two sides departed by highlighting their serious disagreements on issues of European security (see EDM, April 25). Meanwhile, Russian jets have repeatedly aggressively buzzed NATO vessels and aircraft in the Baltic and prompted the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission to scramble its planes five times in the span of a week in response to close Russian flybys near Lithuanian airspace (see EDM, April 21; UNIAN, May 2). Clearly, Russia’s actions in the Baltic speak louder the words.