Monday, December 11, 2017

Union State of Russia and Belarus at 18 ‘a Model for Others,’ Russian Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 11 – When Russia and Belarus agreed in December 1999 to create a Union State, many saw that as the first step toward the restoration of the USSR. But that hasn’t happened, and now even the supporters of the Union State say it is “a model for others’ because it promotes closer integration but maintains the independent statehood of its members.

            Valentin Starichenok of the Belarusian State Pedagogical University and an expert with the Belaya Rus analytic group, says that on this 18th anniversary, there is much to celebrate and emulate although more remains to be done (

            Perhaps the biggest achievement was the creation of an open border between the two countries, Starichenok says; perhaps the biggest disappointment was that the two did not move to a common currency but neither Alyaksandr Lukashenka nor the Belarusian people were prepared to sacrifice their independence by so doing.

            Because the two countries retain their independence, he says, there can be no question about any reduction of sovereignty, and “further integration must be realized on the basis of the good of the two states” rather than the combination of the two.  At the same time, it would be good if the Union State could adopt common symbols to be used internationally.

            Starichenok says that the media in both countries and elsewhere play up any differences of opinion between Moscow and Minsk and consistently ignore how much cooperation there really is.  And they fail to note that bilateral cooperation has proven easier than multilateral cooperation among many states.
            Consequently, he says, it is time to view the Union State on its 18th birthday as a model for relations in the post-Soviet space.  If Starichenok’s argument reflects the thinking in Moscow and Minsk, this represents a significant retreat from what many Russian imperialists hoped for and what many non-Russians still fear.

Muslims of Tatarstan Call on Moscow to Make Tatar the Second State Language of the Russian Federation

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 11 – The Council of Elders of the Muslim community of Naberezhny Chelny has sent an open letter to Russian Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin asking that Moscow consider giving Tatar the status of a second state language of the Russian Federation (

            Their action comes even as the government of Tatarstan appears to have given up the fight, not only falling in line with Putin’s demand that Tatar be studied only on a voluntary basis in the republic but also refusing for the ninth time efforts by Tatars to get permission for demonstrations in Kazan in defense of their native language.

            The Muslim elders base their argument on three grounds. First, they point out that the Tatars by number are the second largest nation in the Russian Federation. Second, they note that most Tatars live outside the borders of the Republic of Tatarstan and thus at present have few if any language rights.

            And third, the Muslim leaders note that Tatar is “unofficially the second language of international communication in the Russian Federation,” given that it is understood and even used by “Bashkirs, Kumyks, Balkars, Sakha, the Altay peoples, those from Central Asia, Azerbaijanis, Turks and others;”

            Their appeal is unlikely to gain traction in Putin’s Moscow, but their appeal, the satisfaction of which would “save [Tatar] from further discrimination, strengthen trust among the nations and peoples of the Russian Federation and strengthen patriotic education,” shows how important the language issue remains, whatever leaders in Moscow or Kazan think.

            Clearly, the fight isn’t over; and to the extent that both the Russian and Tatarstan governments act as if it is, they will only drive the issue underground where it will combine both national passions and religious ones. 

Putin’s Export of Corruption a Key Part of His Hybrid War Against the West, Babchenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 11 – The post-1945 world order is coming to an end, in no small part because of Vladimir Putin’s successful use of hybrid war, one of whose “most important components’ is “the export of corruption” in the form of enormous amounts of illegally obtained money and the values underlying it, according to Igor Babechnko.

            “The world is changing,” the Russian commentator says. The post-1945 settlement is coming to an end and the world is moving toward war. “I fear that we are entering into an era of new global changes and a re-division of the world order,” in large part because of Putin’s hybrid wars and use of corruption (

                At the present moment, Babchenko says, “Russia has again taken the course toward imperialism and again transformed itself into a xenophobic and aggressive imperialist country, only this time for the achievement of its goals, it is using not tank divisions but the subversive influence” of corrupt Russians who travel to other countries on a regular basis.

            “Arriving in countries of the first world, they bring with them not only their money but also their worldview. They also influence the practice of business and politics in the societies of those countries which accept them. And what is still worse, [these corrupt Russians] then pervert them.”

            The first result of this process is that people in Western countries “try to close their eyes to the origin of this [Russian] money, which in the overwhelming majority of cases was obtained by criminal means.” Then, because those who have it come to be treated as respected figures, some in the West then conclude the best and shortest “path to success” is theft and corruption.”

            If the Russians can do this, Babchenko continues, why can’t we, some in Western countries begin to ask, and “if society doesn’t distinguish between the thief and the honest man, then why in that case should one be honest?”

            “Unfortunately, Western democracies still can’t understand with whom they are dealing, what the new challenges to them are, and what Putin’s Russia of the 21st century in fact represents.” And so Western businessmen and politicians continue to play with a con man who doesn’t play by the rules and uses the restrictions others place on themselves against them.

            Russian opposition figures have told the West again and again what it is up against, but they haven’t been listened to.  Putin’s regime has no respect for any rules or for truth and is quite prepared to subvert both not only at home but abroad in order that its approach to the world will spread to others, ultimately defeating them in the process.

            “Freedom of speech is an instrument for the democratic organization of society, and it consequently works only in democratic society as the most important instrument of public influence on the powers that be; but in authoritarian societies, it is transformed into an instrument of propaganda” so that the powers influence society but not the other way around.

            “Democracy,” he continues, “is a mark of a mature free society,” but “the sign of an authoritarian society” and the goal to which all authoritarian regimes work “is infantilism,” first among their own people and now using various “hybrid” techniques among others so as to destroy democracy. 

            Those in the West who attempt to speak “with such regimes with the language of democracy” fail to understand that authoritarian regimes like Putin’s view that as a sign of weakness. They only understand force, and they must be countered quickly before they are in a position to advance anywhere.

            The West doesn’t get it, Babchenko continues. Instead, “by inertia,” most of its leader continue to try to view Russia as “a distorted but all the same a legal state. This has not been true for a long time.” Instead, already for many years, “Russia has adopted the cynical thought: to play not by the rules is more profitable.”

            That is especially so if your opponents allow you to get away with this. 

            “Now in Russia and not only in Russia but across the entire post-Soviet space, the term ‘kleptocracy’ has been adopted. The power of thieves and the corrupt. This is a very precise term. Kleptocracy has become possible precisely thanks to that infantilism” the regime has promoted and the unwillingness of the West to challenge it.

            “But what is still worse,” the Russian analyst continues, is that Moscow has been able to “export” this approach and use it to pervert and subvert others.  The West needs to wake up and begin asking questions rather than looking the other way as Putin and his corrupt world destroy it step by step.

            Above all, people in the West must understand that “the corrupt erosion” of democracy and honesty “is not simply about theft and money laundering … It is now and if you will already in the first instance a case of hybrid war.” The West must be prepared to fight it, and the first step in that direction must be a recognition of this reality.

            Unfortunately, that has not yet happened; hopefully, Babchenko suggests, it will happen before it is too late.