Monday, September 26, 2016

Another Act of Moscow’s Barbarism in Syria -- Its Refusal to Allow Circassians to Return Home

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 26 – Russia’s bombing of the civilian population in Aleppo has correctly been described as “an act of barbarousness” by the leaders of Western countries, but there is another Russian barbarism which has failed to attract the denunciation it deserves: Moscow’s failure to allow Syria’s Circassians to return to their homeland in the North Caucasus.

            In the OnKavkaz portal, Yuliya Suguyeva points out that among the many Syrians fleeing the horrific war in their country are as many as 160,000 Circassians who would like to move to the North Caucasus, the homeland from which their ancestors were expelled by Russian forces in 1864 (

                Since the start of the Syrian conflict, however, she says, “fewer than 2,000 Circassians” have arrived in Kabardino-Balkaria, Adygeya, and Karachayevo-Cherkessia, the three republics of the North Caucasus into which Moscow has divided the Circassian nation. The low number is the direct result of Russian opposition to their return.

            It has become increasingly difficult for Syria’s Circassians to get Russian visas, and on their arrival in what was once their historic homeland, they are treated not as refugees or as repatriants but as ordinary immigrants and forced to comply with Russian rules requiring that they pass tests of Russian language knowledge and go to work.

            Officials in most places do little or nothing for them, and only the actions of individual Circassians and Circassian public organizations are keeping them alive.  Approximately 1,000 Syrian Circassians are in Kabardino-Balkaria, another 800 are in Adygeya, and only about 35 are in Karachayevo-Cherkessia.

            Russian officials explain their reluctance to take in more Circassians by saying that they fear that the Syrian Circassians include among their number some radical Islamists, but that is neither true nor the real reason that Moscow is taking this anti-human position. Syria’s Circassians have a long history of moderation, and what Moscow is really worried about is a shift in the ethnic balance in the North Caucasus against it.

            Few Americans appear to be aware that most of the approximately 5,000 ethnic Circassians living in the US are Syrian Circassians, yet another reason for Washington to denounce Russian barbarism in this area.  They are united in a Circassian Benevolent Association in New Jersey which each September marks Circassian Day.

            This year, on September 17, the Association’s celebration was especially significant. At its meeting, John Colarusso, a professor of linguistics at McMaster University, was honored with the Ali Shogentsuk Medal for his contributions to the Circassian nation, including his important work on the demise of the Ubykhs and the continuing importance of the Nart Sagas.

Putin’s Plans for Reforming State System Far More Radical than Just a New KGB and State Council, Dragunov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 26 – Last week, Kazan’s “Business-Gazeta” published the prediction by Artem Dragunov that Vladimir Putin plans to do away with the office of Russian president and create instead a State Council he would head. (For a discussion, see

            Now, because of the enormous attention that article attracted, the Tatarstan newspaper has published a continuation of Dragunov’s argument, one that suggests Putin has far larger plans for the reformation of the Russian political system and also one that the paper again notes cannot be independently confirmed (

            According to Dragunov, who claims to have insider knowledge, “the situation has developed even better than the Kremlin had thought possible” both domestically and internationally and in each case less by the Russian government’s actions than by the failures of its foreign “’partners’” and shortcomings of the Russian opposition.

            As a result and because United Russia now has a constitutional majority, something that allows Putin to ignore the other parties and even arrange for the replacement of their leaders and also to push through changes in the country’s basic law, this is an appropriate time, Dragunov says, to launch what he calls “Putin’s new program.”

            The population is “ready for this” and will vote for any changes Putin calls for in a referendum.  People may complain about this or that, but they will fall in line, as a result of the successes of the government’s propaganda machine and their own interest in stability above all else.

            The new Putin plan, Dragunov continues, involves first of all, “the return of the USSR but without bright ideological packaging on the basis of private property, reliance on history including the Russian Empire with a corporate administration at the head of which will stand an organization which one can call the KGB” or simplified, “”the Office.’”

            In addition, and this is the unspoken part, Putin’s plan involves “the construction of a Russian China. The successes of the Chinese,” but just now, no one in Moscow knows how to achieve this end given the cadres “hunger” that has arisen from the emigration of many and the collapse of the Russian educational system.

            Among the first steps that the New Putin Plan will involve will be the formation of an analogue to the KGB, major personnel changes in the regional heads, and attacks on independent business in the name of fighting corruption. The population will be only too pleased to welcome all of this, Dragunov says. And it will support the formation of a State Council as well.

            According to the commentator, the new State Council will consist of the head of the council and his deputies, the security council, an experts’ council, the accounting chamber, the Russian national guard, the federal protection service, and the heads of the houses of parliament. The parliament may soon have three chambers rather than two.

            There will be “many women” in the new Russian government, the commentator continues, although the government will lose its budgetary powers to the State Council and focus only on administration.

            Even more radically, he says, Putin is planning to move the capital east of the Urals, “not for political reasons but for military ones.” He hopes to build a new capital on the model of Astana or Brazilia, although many state functions will remain in Moscow or move among the cities of Russia, again out of security considerations.

            The new Putin plan, Dragunov says, will involve the nationalization or re-nationalization of strategic parts of the economy. It will seek to attract back to Russia many of those who have fled abroad since 1991, and it will make places like Kaliningrad attractive centers in order to win such people over.

            Regarding Russia’s neighbors, the analyst continues, “the most important role in the plans of the Kremlin” includes Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan, places that are a military buffer against challenges from abroad and that Moscow will seek to control by installing its own agents of influence in key positions.

            As far as geopolitics is concerned, “everything here is simple: Europe and the rest are occupied with their own problems, and the more problems they have, the less time there is for them to put sticks in the wheels of a New Russian Empire. Russia is forced to build its own Empire because” others from China to the US to the Muslims are doing the same.

                According to Dragunov, all this will be announced by the New Year, and a referendum and early presidential elections may follow in 2017.

Custine’s ‘Russia in 1839’ Indispensable for Understanding Russia Today, Shiropayev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 26 – In 1971, George Kennan observed that the travelogue of the Marquis de Custine during his visit to the Russian Empire in 1839 may not have been entirely accurate in its description of Nicholas I’s reign but that the French nobleman’s words provided a remarkably accurate assessment of Leonid Brezhnev’s rule.

            Now, today, Russian commentator Aleksey Shiropayev makes a similar argument, insisting that Custine’s words are again “very useful for understanding Russia” under Vladimir Putin and, like Kennan almost a half a century ago, selecting key passages to make his point  (

            Shiropayev focuses on two: Custine’s visit to the grave of Minin in a Nizhny Novgorod church and his attendance at a re-enactment of the 1812 Battle of Borodino. 

            The French nobleman visits a church and assumes that it is at least as ancient as the grave of Minin only to learn from the local governor that the church is new, not restored, and that Minin’s grave had been dug up and transferred to the new church where it became a pilgrimage site many assumed was ancient.

            The governor explained that he had done so because the emperor concluded that it would be better to have a newly built church than a restored on lest it get in the way of new government offices and that it was entirely appropriate to relocate Minin’s remains in order to present them more appropriately to the people.

            As can be seen, Shiropayev says, “our passion for new buildings arose hardly in the era of Luzhkov,” the mayor of Moscow in the 1990s. And that highlights something else which he describes as “extremely characteristic” of Russian attitudes toward culture: “the lack of taste for the genuine and the inability to value the genuine and unique.”

            Indeed, he continues, what happened to Minin has been repeated in Putin’s time with the reburial of the remains of White General Anton Denikin and √©migr√© philosopher Ivan Ilin.

            And this attitude toward historical artifacts extends to history itself, as Custine pointed out in his description of a re-enactment of the Battle of Borodino. In the real battle, Russian forces retreated in the face of Napoleon’s attack. But that didn’t seem right to Nicholas I, and so even though it didn’t happen in reality, the Russian army attacked in the re-enactment.

            As a result of this change, “a defeat was converted into a victory,” something that remains to this day “one of the  favorite Russian occupations.”