Sunday, August 28, 2016

Stalinist Times are Returning in Russian-Occupied Crimea, Poroshenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 28 – The incarceration of Ilmi Umerov, one of the leaders of the Crimean Tatar movement, in a psychiatric hospital by the Russian occupation authorities in Crimea underscores that “Stalinist times of the 1930s are returning” in all their extent and horror, according to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

            The Ukrainian leader made that comment in the course of an interview with CNN and argued that it provided yet another argument for international cooperation to protect global security and individual rights (

            Poroshenko said that what is happening with Umerov is “not a problem exclusively of Ukraine; it is a problem of the entire world. And the US as the world’s leader, stand together with us and must stand in defense of global security,” especially as the Umerov case is not unique and hundreds of Ukrainians are now held hostage by the Russian occupiers.

            The Ukrainian president’s words come after a demonstration in Kyiv in defense of Umerova and as signatures are being collected in Crimea by his lawyer urging Poroshenko to add his voice and efforts to those of other governments and international human rights groups (

                The appeal says among other things that:

“Today in Crimea, the Russian authorities are intentionally persecuting citizens of Ukraine and especially those hwo openly express their loyalty to Ukraine, speak for its independence and territorial integrity and who insist on human rights and the rights of the indigenous Crimean Tatar people.

“You should be aware,” the appeal to Poroshenko continues, “about the numerous cases of murders, kidnappings, searches and arrests of Ukrainian citizens in Crimea.” Among them is the horrific treatment being meted out against Ilmi Umerov who “for many years has served the Crimean Tatar people and the Ukrainian state, meriting the respect not only of the Crimean Tatars but also the residents of Crimea of various nationalities and faiths.”

Ten days ago, the appeal says, “by an illegal decision of ‘the Kyiv district court’ of the city of Simferopol and despite serious problems with his health and his undergoing treatment in one of the hospitals of Simferopol, officers of the FSB confined him to a psychiatric clinic for legal-psychiatric evaluation.

“The conditions of the detention of Ilmi Umerov in the psychiatric facility are generating serious concerns about the state of his health which is getting worse and also about his life.” Consequently, it says, “we are appealing to You with a request and demand that you use all the possibilities of a chief of state” to win his release.”

            Human rights groups, the OSCE and the Office of the EU Representative in Kyiv have already called for the Russians to release Umerov ( and

            It is important that Poroshenko has done the same, and it is already long past time for all people of good will and their governments around the world to do the same lest the Russian occupiers get away with this latest crime, one that, as the Ukrainian president points out, highlights Russia’s return to the worst features of the totalitarian past.

Another ‘Distant Mirror’ -- Muscovy’s Sack of Novgorod in 1478 and the Rise of ‘the Russian Threat’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 28 – Historians have long pointed out that Muscovy’s sacking of Novgorod in 1478 foreclosed for centuries any chance that Russia could move in a European and democratic direction. But far fewer have noted that it was precisely that event which also had the effect of sparking fears of “a Russian threat” that have never entirely left Europe.

            Novgorod before Muscovy destroyed it was one of the most democratic cities in Europe: a higher percentage of its adult males voted for its governing assembly than was the case in London at the same time.  But by its actions, Muscovy also destroyed what had become the traditional relations between the Russian lands and Livonia.

            And that led, St. Petersburg historian Mariya Bessudnova argues, set in train “a chain reaction” of developments in trade, the observance of international conventions and the nature of diplomatic relations (; summarized atразгром-новгорода-в-1478-году-и-возникнов/).

            But perhaps most important, she says, it led to the basing of the forces of Muscovy “near the Livonian border and to armed attacks on Livonian territory,” actions that “led to the formation in Livonia and in Eastern Europe as a whole ideas about ‘a Russian threat’” to the West.

            “In its social-economic, political and cultural development,” Bessudnova notes, “the Novgorod Republic was essentially different from other Russian cities in no small degree because of the intensiveness of its trading contacts with Western Europe” and its participation in the Hansa League.

            But after it was occupied by Muscovy in 1478 and its old order destroyed, the harmony that had existed within it as a bridge between Europe and Muscovy was destroyed. For a few years, the Muscovite Grand Prince Ivan III allowed some of the city’s earlier contacts with Europe continue “but not for long.”

            In negotiations, his representatives insisted that Livonia change its legal norms to bring them into correspondence with Muscovy’s, something that the merchant class of Livonia understood as a threat to their very existence and that they knew Moscow would “soon violate” if their country’s leadership were to agree.

            But despite Ivan III’s talk about economics, the issues involved were always political and always about first isolating Novgorod and then subordinating it politically to Muscovy.  To that end, he repopulated the city after the pogroms he had organized with people from the interior of his lands and who importantly did not know any of the Baltic or European languages.

            But as the Livonian merchants suspected, that was hardly the end of it. In 1494, the Muscovite ruler closed the Hansa office in Novgorod; and at about the same time introduced a kind of closed politics which sparked suspicions that Muscovy was planning to attack others. That led to talk about a “Rusche gefahr,” or “Russian threat” to more than Novgorod and more than Livonia.

            Thanks to the trading links, this fear spread. In response, “Livonia introduced sanctions” and limited the flow of strategic goods like metals to Muscovy. Unfortunately for the authors of this plan, the economic interests of some business groups was stronger than their patriotism and the sanctions were not always effective.

            Nonetheless, Ivan III was under pressure to normalize ties with the Hansa League and entered into negotiations, but no constructive dialogue occurred and the talks in Narva ended with no progress, Bessudnova says.  As a result, the situation along the Muscovy-Livonian border deteriorated.

            Livonian peasants accustomed to fish in what had become Russian waterways attacked Russian merchants. And Russian troops in the Ivangorod garrison engaged in indisciplined attacks on the peasants and others. That other exacerbated anti-Muscovy feelings and the sense that Europe faced a “’Russian threat.’” The Livonians decided they had no choice but to fight.

            In 1978, US historian Barbara Tuchman published her study, “A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century” in which she described the ways in which events nearly seven hundred years earlier held up a mirror for the present.  The Muscovite destruction of Novgorod and its consequences holds up an even more instructive mirror to what is happening now.

Post-Soviet Russian Empire Entering ‘Second Phase’ of Disintegration, Lukyanenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 28 – By attacking Ukraine, Moscow has set in train the second phase of the disintegration of the post-Soviet Russian empire, a process that will end with the independence of the autonomous republics, krays, and oblasts of the Russian Federation and the formation of a smaller Russian nation state. According to Levko Lukyanenko.

            The former dissident and author of Ukraine’s Declaration of Independence in 1991 says that “the Russian USSR was an empire and now the Russian Federation is also an empire” (

            And history teaches, he says, that “empires either grow or fall apart. [They] cannot live peacefully because [their] goals are to grow.”  That is what has been happening in Russia. The first phase of its disintegration happened in 1991, but some in Moscow did not and do not accept that and are trying to reverse it by seeking to reclaim Ukraine.

            Indeed, “already in 1991, they began to plan” how to do that.  They developed expertise on Ukraine, they conducted an information war against it. They formed “a fifth column” within it. And when none of that proved to be sufficient, Lukyanenko continues, they decided to use military force.

            The war between Russia and Ukraine was inevitable because it is a clash of civilizations.  “Russia is an Asiatic country” in which the state is everything and the individual is nothing and it which “’Great Muscovy’” is the only goal.  Ukraine in contrast is “populated by Ukrainians, European tribes” whose democratic political traditions go back to the Kyiv veche.

            When Vladimir Putin’s agent Viktor Yanukovich failed in his task of subverting Ukraine and even flirted with approaching Europe, the Kremlin pulled his chain and forced him to turn back toward Moscow. The Ukrainian people “couldn’t put up with this and after it took place the events which then became down as the Revolution of Dignity.”

            Putin thought he could provoke a civil war, but the Ukrainian people resisted and he failed. Then he used military force to seize Crimea.  He could have been blocked if the Ukrainian authorities had not been in disorder and had acted as Leonid Kuchma did when Russia tried to take Tuzla Island. 

            Now, Lukyanenko says, Ukraine must declare the existence of “a state of war in Crimea and also in Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts.” And it must convert the Minsk group into “an international organ for bringing accusations against Russia for its seizure of part of our territory, its violation of international law” and gaining reparations from Moscow as well.

            As things go forward, the former dissident says, Ukrainians “must be prepared for anything. They must defend freedom at the price of their lives if need be. And there is nothing to fear from this: they should take as their example the Finns” who in 1939 fought off the Russians. At the very least, “it is better to die in battle than to be returned to Muscovite colonial slavery.”

            The West will come to Ukraine’s aid if Ukrainian diplomacy is effective and if Ukrainians demonstrate that they are prepared to overcome the Soviet inheritance and defend their country, Lukyanenko says. The US and the UK may even feel compelled to live up to their responsibilities under the Budapest Memorandum.

            Putin began his war against Ukraine because he views it as “an extension of his war for extending of restoring the empire, and the ethnic Russian population supports its president because it is thinks in the same imperialist manner. But there also are in Russia many in the intelligentsia with a European orientation, and they understand that Ukraine is not Chechnya.”