Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Siberia is ‘a Melting Pot of Peoples,’ Levushkan Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 23 – Like the United States but unlike Russia west of the Urals, “Siberia is a melting pot of peoples, civilizations, and cultures,” the reflection of the enormous number of migration waves, some voluntary and some involuntary, that have passed through this enormous space and promoted the formation of a new identity, according to Pavel Levushkan.

            Levushkan, a Lutheran pastor who was born and raised in Siberia but returned to Latvia after 2014 when conditions in Russia deteriorated to the point that he couldn’t function, makes these remarks in an interview given to Vadim Shtepa of the After Empire portal (

                “This melting pot of peoples and cultures has created in Siberia a special atmosphere of openness and tolerance at least it was during [his] time there, when people didn’t ask what’s your origin or religious confession?” the pastor says. Siberians were tolerant to people of various ethnic groups and religious denominations.

            “Now the situation has become worse as a result of the intensifying imperial unification, there has been a change in attitude including among Siberians. But it seems to me that this is temporary and will pass because Siberian tolerance and openness are historical phenomena connected with the difficult conditions that forced people to trust one another, cooperate and easily accept new arrivals.”

            He continues: “In this sense, Siberia reminds [him] of the early period of the US and perhaps even of contemporary Europe when a multitude of cultures became one of the fundamental values of the European Union. Tolerance, openness and multiculturalism are the basis of a future Siberian identity.”

            As to when Siberia will gain autonomy or independence, Lavushkan says, that is a question both for dialogue among the Siberian community itself and for talks between it and the rest of the world.” But he concludes that “for [him], it is perfectly evident that Siberia by its spirit is not a colony however the imperial rulers relate to it.”

            “Siberia is a special element of the Russian cultural world. Not that ‘Russian world’ as a Kremlin political meme but of the Russian cultural world as an archipelago of various regional differences and regional variations,” the pastor continues. It is one such Russian island: there are others in Eastern Europe, Ukraine and elsewhere.

            “If one recalls the already classical novel, The Island of Crimea,” Lavushkan says, he believes that “Siberia should be a similar civilizational ‘island,’ and not in any case be swallowed up by that crypto-fascist empire which is now being formed on the territory of [his] former motherland.”

Ten Steps Kyiv Must Take to Counter Russian Efforts to Control Sea of Azov

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 23 – The Russian Federation has shown itself ever more ready to take steps to bottle up Ukrainian shipping in the Sea of Azov by the use of its naval power, a violation of international law that would severely harm Ukraine’s economic and security situation if it goes unchallenged.

            There are some short-term solutions like shifting Ukrainian sea traffic away from Azov ports to Odessa and longer term ones like building a canal between Ukraine and Russian-occupied Crimea (

            But according to Andrey Klimenko, an expert on Crimea for the Maidan of Foreign Affairs, there are ten steps that Ukrainian specialists on maritime law and military affairs say Kyiv needs to take now or in the immediate future (

            These are:

1.      Ukraine must send a note to the Russian foreign ministry stating that it will not respect Moscow’s effort to close the sea near Berdyansk because that it an act of aggression, and Kyiv must also inform all international organizations and especially those who deal with maritime law.

2.      Kyiv must call for an immediate session of the UN Security Council.

3.      It must “immediately denounce the 2003 treaty between Ukraine and the Russian Federation on cooperation in the use of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Straits.

4.      Kyiv must declare the Sea of Azov a territorial sea, its internal waters and exclusive maritime economic zone.

5.      It must give orders to the Ukrainian navy and security forces to “take under control the territorial waters of Ukraine in the Sea of Azov.

6.      Kyiv must denounce all agreements with the Russian Federation regarding the use of the Sea of Azov.

7.      It must seek to work with partners to impose sanctions “against all ports of the Russian Federation on the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov” to block Russian schemes to avoid existing sanctions regimes.

8.      Kyiv “must develop a plan of crisis measures in order to minimize the negative consequences of the loss of the possibility of using ports on the Sea of Azov.”

9.      It must urge its partners to “create an international naval union (Ukraine-Georgia, Ukraine-Romania, Ukraine-Georgia-Romania, possibly with the participation of Turkey” to protect naval and coastal infrastructure in Ukraine.

10.  Kyiv must “do an analysis and secure ratification by Ukraine” to the full list of international conventions and agreements concerning maritime operations.

These ten measures are likely to inform Kyiv’s policies in the coming days if as expected Russia moves to tighten its control over the Sea of Azov and the Kerch straits.

Putin Already Deploying His ‘Cossacks’ in Non-Russian Republics

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 23 – Before the 1917 revolution, Nicholas II used Cossack units to attack political opponents and ethnic and religious minorities, driving the two together and making his overthrow all the more likely. Now, Vladimir Putin appears set to repeat the tsar’s mistake, moving from attacking protesters with his “Cossacks” to undermining non-Russian nations.

            Putin’s move in fact may be even more dangerous to his position that Nicholas II’s was to his because unlike the Cossacks of later imperial times who were under effective military control, the neo-Cossack bandits Putin is using are ideologically hostile to dissent and minorities as such. (See

            Putin’s use of such groups against protesters on May 5 in Moscow has been well-documented (, but developments that will allow him to use these groups elsewhere have not (cf.

            Now, however, thanks to a report by Ilnar Garifullin of Radio Liberty’s Tatar-Bashkir Service, there is more evidence available on “’Cossackization’” in the non-Russian republics of the Middle Volga, a development that could set the stage for more Kremlin-sponsored but uncontrolled violence there (

            He points out that there is a Kazan link even to the Moscow events because a company there gave 1.7 million rubles (30,000 US dollars) to the shadowy Central Cossack Host that took part in the March 5 mayhem.  But he provides disturbing information about the appearance and growth of “Cossack” villages and units in the Middle Volga.

            The Cossack rebirth at the end of the 1980s involved both real Cossacks and those who wanted to participate in a militarized movement.  The former would like to see their regions returned to them or even to gain independence, things Moscow opposes; but the latter have proved to be extremely useful to the powers that be.

            Many of them have been profoundly affected by the propaganda of Orthodox autocracy and conservative values and are thus quite prepared to be foot soldiers in the campaign against modernity, urban values and non-Orthodox peoples and nations, Garifullin continues.  The regime uses them to suggest that “’Orthodox society’” is behind its repressive policies.

            “It is well known that among the Cossacks in tsarist times there were many Tatar Muslims (the Orenburg Cossacks) and also Buddhists (the Kalmyks).” That is a part of the history of the Cossacks Putin’s “Cossacks” don’t talk about because it is inconsistent with their “Black Hundreds” views.

            Neo-Cossack communities, supported by grants from the Russian Presidential Administration, have appeared in various parts of the Middle Volga, Garifullin says. Often they are used as supplements to the police; but they are also being used to try to halt the de-Russification of the area as ethnic Russians move out.

            The support of the neo-Cossacks for Orthodoxy and imperial traditions is, the analyst says, “an element of cultural policy, a unique ‘soft force’ in this case, judging from everything which serves as an attempt to maintain the status quo” of Russian dominance even as ethnic Russians lose their share of the population.

            The introduction of these “Cossacks” in places where Cossacks never existed before thus represents int eh first instance “an ethno-cultural factor” designed to undermine and threaten the non-Russians even as it encourages the ethnic Russians to remain where they are. But such efforts carry with them real risks, Garifullin says, including violent clashes with the non-Russian nations.

            On the one hand, many in the region are asking if “the Cossacks” are allowed to arm themselves and push their religion and nation, “why shouldn’t representatives of other confessions not be allowed to do the same?” Why shouldn’t the Tatars and Bashkirs be allowed to restore the regiments they made famous a century ago?

            And on the other, he concludes, “the intensification of propaganda of one religious may promote radicalization” not only among members of that religion but in response among those who are of a different faith. Thus, “’Cossackization’” Putin-style could end by triggering an outburst of Islamist radicalism in the Middle Volga.