Thursday, October 19, 2017

Moscow Faces Enormous Obstacles in Restoring Kaliningrad as a Military Outpost



Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 19 – The presence of NATO forces in the Baltic Sea region has sparked discussions about the need to restore Russia’s military capacity in Kaliningrad, but “to restore what Russia itself for decades has destroyed will require enormous efforts,” possibly more than Moscow can currently afford, according to Andrey Rezchikov.

            In Moscow’s Vzglyad today, the Russian analyst says that Western officials have long talked about Russia’s “militarization of Kaliningrad,” talk that reached a crescendo during the recent Zapad-2017 exercises and that has been used to justify the presence of NATO forces in the region (vz.ru/politics/2017/10/19/139608.html).

                “In reality,” Rezchikov continues, “Russian forces in the region” are far fewer than NATO’s in the same theater and vastly fewer than they were in the early 1990s. At that time, for example, there were 32 submarines in the Baltic Fleet; now, there are “only two” remaining.  There were then 90,000 Russian soldiers; now, there are a total of 11,600. And almost 900 tanks were withdrawn in 2008 alone.

            According to the newspaper’s sources, in the early years of this century, the relationship of forces between NATO and Russia was 21 to 1 in the Western alliance’s favor. By the middle of the first decade, it has become 32 to 1 in favor of NATO.  With the arrival of NATO forces in the region this year, the relationship may be even more lopsided against Russia.

            Moscow failed to consider this possibility and to begin the building up of forces. Now, Rezchikov says, it faces many bottlenecks: there aren’t enough pilots to man the planes Moscow wants to play the primary defense force of the oblast because there aren’t enough being trained, and Lithuania has blocked the introduction of tanks by land. (They can still come by sea.)

            As a result, according to one retired Russian general with whom the journalist spoke, “aviation regiments will be restored only on paper.” In reality, they will be hollow.  Moscow officials and Duma members talk tough about building up defenses, the general says; but they aren’t committing the enormous resources needed according to a long-term plan.

            Unless that changes, Kaliningrad will remain in a militarily weak position for some time to come. 

Putin’s Goal for Russia is ‘One People, One Language, and One Religion,’ Tatar Activist Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 19 – Vladimir Putin and his regime are pursuing a goal for Russia that can best be summed up by the phrase “one people, one language, and one religion,” Fauziya Bayramova says; and that will spend disaster or even death of the non-Russian nations of the country.

            The Putin regime, the Ittifaq Tatar Independence Party founder says, has pursued a multi-move and in some cases indirect campaign to achieve its goal. It has not always succeeded. Moscow tried to promote the idea of a single ethnic Russian nation, but “the people opposed this” (idelreal.org/a/fauziya-bayramova-interview/28802805.html).

            Consequently, she continues, the Kremlin has pursued an indirect approach, “baptism through language,” an approach that involves “language first and then Orthodoxy.”  Putin is not alone in pushing this, Bayramova says.  The Russian Orthodox Church, Russian chauvinists like Mikhalkov and Rogozin and the force structures are all involved.

            Putin is doing this now because he has achieved many of his goals in foreign affairs: he already looks “like a conqueror” to many Russians, even though he may he may restart in campaigns against Ukraine, the Baltic countries and so on in the near future. But now he wants to focus on domestic issues.

            A major “domestic problem” that Putin has to address is that of the nations of the country. “After the elections or even during them national republics will be no more as a result of the amalgamation of regions. But there are and will be nations: We exist!” Putin thus decided to attack via the schools rather than via laws.

            If Putin had used law, Bayramova argues, “international organizations would have complained because that would have affected national minorities” about which they have strong views.  The Kremlin leader is thus being clever, but he has other reasons to be moving in this direction.

            He is confident that he can do what he wants because in the past “the national republics have given him 90 percent of their votes. But it is not the people who have done so but rather the leaders of the regions: They will give however many are required.” And he moved on language to “show” to Russians that he is “the Russian little father tsar.”

            For Putin, the existence of republics is even more of a problem as far as his vision is concerned than is the existence of nations, Bayramova suggests. That is why he and his team began their attack on Tatarstan by going after Tatneft and then Tatfondbank. But now he attacking language, and “no one expected that” because the school year had already begun.

            On the one hand, that has meant that fewer people have been able to mobilize against this move; and on the other, it means that Putin has created a kind of chaos about which outsiders will find it difficult to judge, thus allowing Putin the opportunity to move forward toward his goal more easily.

            The leaders of the republic should be speaking out, Bayramova says. They need to tell the people the truth that “soon the republic can disappear, along with Tatar literature, Tatar culture, and the Tatar nation itself.” They must declare that we won’t be able to save these things only by speaking the languages at home in our kitchens.

            The powers that be in the republic have something to lose, and Moscow can exploit that. They are their children and grandchildren,” the Ittifaq leader says, long ago became Russian speakers. Their own fear is that they will lose their positions or their wealth.  But ordinary Tatars have even more to lose: their language and their nation.

            Consequently, it is critically important to say openly to the federal authorities and the people: “The disappearance of the Tatar language in the schools will lead to the disappearance of the Tatar nation. Do you want this?”

Russia Might Cure Its Imperial Drive by Joining Another and Broader Empire, Inozemtsev Suggests



Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 19 – The experience of the European countries may provide a useful model for Russia to overcome its imperial complexes, Vladislav Inozemtsev says. As they yielded their colonies, they formed a new “empire” in the form of what is today known as the European Union.

            “The formation of the institutions of a united Europe not accidently corresponded in time with the most active phase of decolonization,” the Russian commentator says. “Having lost their empires, the Europeans had an additional reason for coming together and forming a substitute for a powerful super-state” (afterempire.info/2017/10/18/north-empire/).

                The Europeans recognized that without their former empires and without some new structure, they would face the threat of being “driven to the political periphery” of the world by other powers such as the US, Russia and China.  To that end, Inozemtsev says, they developed a “seduction-based Empire” designed to attract others not as subjects of themselves but as partners.

            “At the beginning of the 21st century, the two most important continental countries – Germany and France – became the owners of ‘a controlling interest’ in an all-European ‘empire,’ having buried in this way their own imperial ambitions. Something similar,” the commentator says, “could be the only ‘good outcome’ for the Russian empire as well.”

            Inozemtsev continues: “For this Russia itself and its ‘partners’ (as correctly President Putin puts in quotation marks) must consider several historical and factual circumstances.” Among the most important of these is that Russia, like the US, is both part and an extensive of Europe.

            Those two “’borderlands’ of Europe,” he argues, “could not fail to clash as soon as they felt in themselves military and economic superiority over the metropolis.”  Russians argue whether they are East or West, but in reality, they are first of all part of the North – “for a long time, like other European empires was an instrument of the North’s dominance over the South.”

            That could become the source of “a new ‘imperial strategy’” for Russia, Europe and the US in the coming century, Inozemtsev says. Such a combination could unite the North and ensure its continuing domination over the South and the ability to counter challenges emanating from that region.

            “Russia and the US/Canada could become countries which would dominate the Pacific from the North.  Europe would retain its military political defense as provided by the US and could at the same time gain access to Russia’s resources.

            “In other words,” he continues, “if Rusisa can’t escape from dreams about its imperial nature and from the sufferings over the loss of empire, the single way out of the existing situation as the experiences of the former European empires show is integration in or the creation from nothing of a still larger empire.” 

            Russia’s participation in such a new “imperial” project would “make it more prepared to meet the challenges which can come from the South,” challenges that Russia is confronted by more directly than the other two parts of such a project. But “the synergy” of such a system could be useful for the other two participants.

            Not only would they gain mutual support but they would find that Russia would be able to change in ways that they have indicated they want it to.  If Russia can’t stop being attached to an imperial vision of itself, it might be led to redefine this in order that it not decay into an entity on the periphery of the other powers.