Anatoli Lieven, Senior Research Fellow at the New American Foundation, was briefly interviewed on Democracy Now! this morning. Lieven has written widely on Russia and foreign policy. In a commentary in the International Herald Tribune, he wrote this in regard to Putin and Dick Cheney,
In many ways, Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney are rather similar characters. Both are highly intelligent, but both see the world above all through the restrictive prisms of security and national power.
Both are patriots, but like so many leaders with a tendency to see national power and their own power as one and the same thing. Both are capable of great ruthlessness in defending what they see as the vital interests of their countries. Both are publicly committed to democracy and human rights, but both have been responsible for policies that have called this commitment into question.
But to judge by their records, and especially their speeches of the past week, there is also an important difference between them. Putin is a statesman, and Cheney is not.
It’s too bad the DN! interview was so short. I would have liked to hear more of what he had to say about the G8.
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By Sean — 12 years ago
As of late, there has been a good deal of action on matter pertaining to post Communist bloc land disputes. Within the confines of the former Soviet Union, representatives of Nagorno Karabakh, South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Trans-Dniester regularly meet, with some of their discussions occurring in Russia. On another front, former Yugoslavia is embroiled in an international dialogue on whether Kosovo should be allowed to separate from Serbia. This has no doubt encouraged Republika Srpska to consider breaking away from Bosnia.
Certain elements in the West accuse Moscow of showing a bias for pro-Russian independence movements and recalcitrance towards not so pro-Russian ones. The New York Times’ C.J. Chivers (“Sun and Surf, but Also Lines in the ‘Russian’ Sand,” Aug. 20) and Publius Pundit’s Robert Mayer (“Russia’s Kosovo Double Standard,” Nov. 14) are among those suggesting such. The title of Mayer’s article is enough of a hint to his view. Chivers cites Russia’s refusal to let Chechnya become formally independent, while sympathizing with some independence movements elsewhere. Chivers’ point is non-parallel, since most Chechens aren’t supportive of independence because of what “independence” had twice done to their republic over the last decade. On two different occasions during that period, Chechnya operated as an independent entity. In each instance, there was an enhanced chaos that made life more miserable for Chechnya’s population. Like it or not, a greater Russian control of Chechnya has led to an increased stability in that republic.
Those arguing in support of the Russian position (myself included) stress that each of the disputed former Soviet and former Yugoslav regions have different degrees of legitimacy for independence. Under this very same belief, there are those going against Russia. A critical review of these areas is therefore required.
The Kremlin hasn’t formally recognized the four disputed former Soviet territories as independent states. With the exception of Nagorno Karabakh, the other three have shown an interest in reunifying with Russia. Nagorno Karabakh is interested in unifying with Armenia. In this sense, these regions aren’t necessarily seeking to become independent.
Nagorno Karabakh’s separatist drive has the least enthusiasm among Russian political elites. It’s a landlocked area within Azerbaijan’s Communist drawn boundaries, thereby making its separation from Azerbaijan all the more difficult. The Russian city/region of Kaliningrad is an example of how a territory can exist outside of its affiliated country. However, unlike Nagorno Karabakh – Kaliningrad hasn’t been involved in a violent dispute for decades (towards the end of World War II, under its former name Konigsberg and as a part of Germany, it was the scene of a violent ethnic cleansing campaign against the ethnic German population).
As the Soviet Union broke up, old hatreds between Orthodox Christian Armenians and Turkic Muslim Azeris re-ignited. Up to 30,000 were killed over who would govern Nagorno Karabakh. In the end, the Armenian government supported Nagorno Karabakh Armenians defeated the Azeri government forces. For well over a decade, there has been a cold peace between Yerevan and Baku.
Russia’s position on that dispute is tempered by conflicting realities. Armenia has historically been more pro-Russian than Azerbaijan. Materialistically, fossil fuel rich Azerbaijan is of greater value. Current Azeri foreign policy appears motivated to play the West and Russia off with each other. It’s not out of the realm to hypothesize that a “deal” (official or otherwise) could be made where Russia could tacitly support an Azeri takeover of Nagorno Karabakh in exchange for Azerbaijan becoming geo-politically closer to Russia. Azerbaijan is using its energy revenue to enhance its military.
South Ossetia and Abkhazia share a border with Russia. These two regions were part of a pre-19th century independent Georgia. Between 1801 and the Soviet breakup, South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Georgia proper were affiliated with Russia as parts of the Russian Empire and the USSR. South Ossetia’s majority ethnic Ossetian population is related to the majority Ossetian population in the neighboring Russian republic of North Ossetia. The two Ossetias share the same flag and coat of arms.
When in office, the three post-Soviet Georgian presidents have advocated closer ties to the West and a lessened dependency on Russia. South Ossetia and Abkhazia prefer the opposite. As is true with the Armenians and Azeris, there’s animosity between Georgians and the Abkhaz and South Ossetian communities. These differences could be attenuated with an improvement of Russo-Georgian relations. This isn’t impossible because many Georgians welcome close ties with Russia.
As part of a March 1, 2006 Russia Blog feature on Moldova, my article “Moldova: The Most Overlooked of the European Former Soviet Republics” detailed Trans-Dniester’s excellent case for independence. This region was never part of an independent Moldova. Trans-Dniester’s captial Tiraspol, was founded in 1792 by Russian Field Marshall Alexander Suvorov. (arguably
‘s greatest military commander) At the time, Tiraspol served as a fortress marking the border on the Dniester River between Imperial Russia and Ottoman Empire ruled Moldova. In a recent referendum, Trans-Dniester’s peaceful, multi-ethnic and democratic society expressed the desire to reunify with Russia. Russia
For a variety of reasons, Kosovo doesn’t have a great case for independence. It has been a continuous part of Serbia since 1912. Prior to that, it had been under Ottoman occupation for a lengthy period. Centuries earlier, Kosovo was an integral part of Serbia. It was never an independent entity unto itself or a part of an independent Albania. For decades, Kosovo’s non-Albanian population has lived under constant threat from extreme Albanian nationalists
Since the end of the Bosnian Civil War, Republika Srpska has been at peace as a good number of Muslims and Croats have resettled in that republic. The 1995 Dayton Peace Accord governing Bosnia gave Republika Srpska the right to establish its own relations with other states.
In comparison, UN Resolution 1244 governing Kosovo states that the province is a continued part of Serbia. This resolution also calls for a return of Serb military and civilian administration to that province. Serbia is internationally recognized as the de facto successor state of the now defunct Federal Republic of Yugoslavia which had signed UN Resolution 1244. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia consisted of Serbia and Montenegro. At the time and to the present, Kosovo is recognized as a part of Serbia.
On the matter of hypocrisy, there’s a recent New York Times editorial (“No More Delays for Kosovo,” Nov. 17) which nonchalantly supports Kosovo independence. “The paper of record” has yet to endorse Trans-Dniester’s independence even though it has a much better case than Kosovo.
Michael Averko is a New York based independent foreign policy analyst and media critic. His commentary has appeared in the Action Ukraine Report, Eurasian Home, Intelligent.ru, Johnson’s Russia List, Russia Blog, The New York Times and The Tiraspol Times.Post Views: 416
By Sean — 13 years ago
Since I’ve been giving some attention to the Presidential election in
, I decided to enlist my friend, “Predsedatel’ Mike” for his impression of things in Almaty. “Mike” was kind enough to write something to post on this blog. The following is his thoughts. “Mike” is a scholar who has been in Kazakhstan for several months researching his dissertation. His view from the street gives a much needed picture of the situation concerning the Nazarbayev government’s use of paranoia and intimidation to influence the electorate as well as the status of the opposition, and the expat community’s inability to understand Kazakhstan without Western colored glasses. — Sean Kazakhstan
“An atmosphere of intense fear, and 10,000 phantom hooligans: A report on the Kazakh elections, from a foreign scholar on the ground”
by “Predsedatel’ Mike”
Almaty. Saturday night, December 3rd. The Night before the elections. I was called by a friend, a local, who cancelled our plans to go out to a club. Apparently, there was a curfew in effect. I couldn’t believe that news of this curfew had hit me so late – I hadn’t seen it posted anywhere, I hadn’t seen anything on television, and no one told me. I immediately phoned up my landlord. He “strongly advised” me not to go out that night, and not to go out the next day. There was going to be trouble surrounding the elections. Even if I didn’t confront hooligans and revolutionaries, there were so many police, army and special forces out on patrol, with itchy trigger-fingers, that they might target me, he said. “We could be facing disorder on the level of ‘ the December Events’ ” (In 1986, mass riots surrounding the replacement of a Kazakh party secretary with a Russian one, which resulted in a massacre of over 1000 people). “Just…don’t go out, okay?”. I was scared shitless. So I stayed in.
The next morning, I watched election news. The media outlet Khabar (owned by one of the Nazarbayevs – his daughter, I think) was interviewing people on the street in the lead-up to the elections. “Will you let these disturbances keep you from participating in the election?” “Can anyone stop this election – what do you think of these hooligans, will they succeed?” – Hmm, such pointed questions. I got into a taxi, and went to the expat pub for a quick bite and some darts. The streets were completely deserted. Not a soul. I had never seen it like this, particularly on Sunday, which is such a popular shopping day. I asked my driver why. “People are afraid, because of the hooligans. You know that the opposition has bused in tens of thousands of mambety (rural Kazakhs, typically seen as a dark, drunken, violent force from the countryside – the equivalent of ‘redneck’, or ‘yokel’) to do their evil work, and destroy our democracy”.
Rumors flew around town about these tens of thousands of hooligans – knuckle-dragging apes from the countryside, ready to rape and pillage. To disrupt the elections. To stage a color revolution. Even the opposition spoke of them, claiming that Nazarbayev himself had purchased this lumpenproletariat-for-hire, in order to make them look bad, and to justify further repression. The scary thing is, no one doubted their existence. Somewhere in the city, perhaps hiding in an abandoned factory, there were tens of thousands of barbarians waiting to be unleashed, by one side or the other. People were afraid. Too afraid to go out.
I met up with some friends at the Pub – marines, who hadn’t heard of the curfew. They had gone out the night before, and when the marines ‘go out’, let me tell you, that they go out all night, and all over the city. And they had seen nothing. No one had. Not one smashed window, not one broken bottle. The only violence I saw that night was between an Australian and an Irishman over
Suddenly, all was becoming clearer. The regime was cultivating this atmosphere of fear among the population, in an attempt to get more votes cast for the party of order, the OTAN party, the incumbent President Nazarbayev. They spread rumors of hooligans, of curfews (officially, it turns out, there wasn’t one), of dark forces plotting the overthrow of stability. The regime had even gone so far as to air a television special in the weeks preceding the elections – a documentary on the brutality of revolutions, and how they do nothing but destroy families, peoples’ lives, and entire nations… The fact is, none of this fear is necessary to the stability of this regime – it is the result of a typically Soviet paranoia.
During my time here, I have challenged embassy workers, scholars, and other expats, for their criticism of the Kazakhstani government and Nazarbayev. In making their analyses, they impose so much of the west, so much of what we think democracy is, how a society should be run, and what every decent human being should want, that they look everywhere for real, liberal democratic opposition to the Nazarbayev regime. And they find it everywhere – in the countryside, in poetry competitions, in competing clans, and in murdered ‘opposition’ leaders. Nurkadilov, who was taken out weeks ago, was part of Nazarbayev’s regime until very recently. He was the former mayor of Almaty, and the governor of several oblasts, during his career – all positions which are appointed and important, and which indicate a degree of trust and closeness to Nazarbayev. Their falling out had more to do with the fact that Nurkadilov was more visibly and openly corrupt and brutal than others in the establishment, and was thus harming the public image of the OTAN party. This man was no western liberal democrat reformer, and neither are the rest of the goons that surround him.
The problem is, these expat academic types and government officials talk to the wrong people. They talk to other academics, journalists, and dissidents. But they don’t talk to anyone else. When I say that I think Nazarbayev is truly popular, they look at me with mouths dropped wide open. No. He can’t be. No one would want to live under a democratic facade. Everyone is simply scared.
They’re partially right. Everyone is scared. But, much like the Soviet people living under Stalin, it isn’t all about fear. I consider my informal taxi-driver and shopkeeper political surveys more accurate than the very limited elite that the rest of the expats are talking to. According to my survey, even if the elections were not rigged, the opposition not suppressed, the atmosphere of fear lifted, Nazarbayev would still easily win by a large margin. Because he is truly loved. Sure, people grumble. They complain. Even the staunchest supporters will talk about corruption, and note that Nazarbayev is directly involved. However, he has the following going for him: He is the founder of the state. He moves deftly in international politics, balancing the influence of
America, Russiaand China, and always emerges with a good deal for (66% of oil revenue extracted by foreign companies, for example). His encouragement of foreign investment brings Kazakhstan Kazakhstanreal economic development – this ‘stan is an economic tiger, and the jewel of Central Asiaamidst the collapsing, dilapidated states surrounding it. He balances nationalities policy between advancing a Kazakhstani civic identity, while very gradually encouraging “Kazakhization” in schools and government – with a very fair target of completing the transition to Kazakh in government and public affairs by 2030 – even the Russians think this is acceptable (compared to the situation in Estonia, for example), and are beginning to send their children to Kazakh schools in droves. But most of all, Nursultan Nazarbayev gives the people hope – hope in the future of this country on the world scene. People are proud of this country, and the man at the helm. In a free and fair election, he would easily win somewhere between 70-80% of the vote. Once confronted my assessment, the other expats begrudgingly admit that I’m right.
That being said, Nazarbayev is paranoid, in a frighteningly Soviet way. It seems he can only feel secure with an overwhelming mandate, of 90-95% of the vote. And so, he stages forced rallies of students, workers, the army, etc. He bullies the opposition. And sometimes, people disappear. Nazarbayev is insecure. He doesn’t believe in the genuine love of his people. He considers it fickle, the people stupid, disloyal and easily swayed. And so he terrorizes them as well.
The day that Nurkadilov was killed, everyone spoke in hushed tones. “Did you hear? THEY killed Nurkadilov…”; “THEY murdered him, and threw him in a ditch”. And even the staunchest supporters of Nazarbayev fell silent in some sort of strange mourning. For they genuinely loved their father. But he didn’t need to scare them all into loving him. His irrational outbursts frightened the children, so they crawled into a corner, rocked back and forth, cried, and hugged each other, sharing in their inability to comprehend how father could be so cruel, and attempting to reconcile their love and their fear. With one eye, of course, peering into the darkness under their beds, waiting for ten thousand bogeyman to jump out.Post Views: 415
By Sean — 12 years ago
Anna Politkovskaya’s murder continues to reverberate in the Russian and Western press. It is no surprise that her memory has become one of either martyr or demon, and where one stands in this sordid binary depends more often on one’s political perspective than an appreciation or thoughtful criticism of her work. The dead are the play things of the living, and for a figure so controversial like Politkovskaya it is no surprise that the vultures of memory are hovering in greater numbers.
I recently called Politkovskaya a political football. I now think that this metaphor is incorrect. A football suggests something that is kicked around, back and forth between participants. Given the hyperbole of her memory, I think the appropriate metaphor is Politkovskaya as political pi?ata. So many politicos and pundits are incessantly beating her memory with the hope her body will shower the sweets of political capital in their outstretched hands.
I am alerted to the discourse on Politkovskaya memory by Alexei Pankin’s editorial in the Moscow Times. Pankin writes that he could no longer quietly morn the famed reporters’ death once “grief [turned] into a dance on Anna’s grave.” As a long time associate of Politkovskaya, Pankin feels that she would have viewed all the superlatives now being said about her with much disgust. “Anna, I think,” he writes, “would not have accepted all the consternation generated by Putin’s inability to find any appropriate, human words after her death. For her it would probably have been the greatest acknowledgment of all. I also think she would have disapproved of all the petty politicking in her name.”
The production of memory is a game of detractors and adherents alike. One should point out that Russian Union of Journalists has used her death to publish a sixteen page tabloid about her and the 211 journalists that have been killed in
since 1992. Using her image is an effective way to draw attention to the violence against those trying to do their job as the fourth estate. Russia
One may debate whether it is right or wrong to criticize Politkovskaya at this time. I personally feel that it really doesn’t matter. Her supporters are going to cry that it is too soon when faced with unfair or harsh criticism, her detractors are going to use the fact that she is in the news to launch criticism or attacks. Others will simply use her as a prod, like the Weekly Standard article, for other means.
Whatever people say, a memory of Politkovskaya is being produced and it matters little whether she would have agreed or disagreed with what is now being said about her. She is, after all, dead and can’t join the debate.
All of the rhetoric I think begs a different question. Is there a “real” Politkovskaya to know or even reclaim? I began thinking about this years ago when I wrote a paper on biographies of Huey P. Newton, the famed leader of the Black Panther Party. I discovered in my reading that everyone claimed to represent the “real” Huey P. Newton, even
claimed such in his autobiography. I soon realized that there wasn’t a real Newton Newtonto represent and that all representations were just that because no biographer or even autobiographer could either capture the complexity of an individual like or siphon through all the political sand to get at something genuine. The memory of Newton Newtoncould not be reduced to his person because his life symbolized more than the individual could ever represent. Thus his memory is a political battle that is still being waged to this day. Newton
The same could be said of Politkovskaya. There is no Anna Politkovskaya to remember that is free of all the political baggage, much to the contestation of her family and friends. They may have individual reminiscences and they may try to share them, as Pankin does, with the world. But since her death, Politkovskaya has become a figure that is in a sense public domain. There is a battle over its ownership because her memory is a potential weapon for the weak and the strong alike. And there is no doubt that the narrative that was Anna Politkovskaya life will be written and rewritten. But one should not shudder at the thought of such naratological chicanery. The public-ness of her memory is a result of her very controversial work and a testament to its importance. In that sense, no matter how opportunist or disgusting people’s use of her memory may be, I think it is all a vindication that even in death; she can’t be so easily ignored.Post Views: 423