Russian dolls

by Maria on November 24, 2006

In Europe, we’re having to re-evaluate and re-negotiate our relationship with Russia. Not easy, when you consider that Russia’s ‘relationships’ with its Near Abroad – the very countries whose love the EU hopes to earn using soft power and economic enticement – are toxic, violent and dysfunctional. Russia truly is the jealous wifebeater of eastern Europe and central Asia.

From the outside, Russia looks like a poisonous nest of oligarchs, ex-spies, energy tycoons who are both oligarchs and ex-spies, and an increasingly indifferent populace and authoritarian centre. We watch but don’t understand as their poisonous games are played out in London football clubs and sushi bars. And we can see the power games Russia plays to try to isolate or simply antagonise former Soviet and now EU states (and also how states like Poland rather clumsily try to use the EU to retaliate). But there’s so much long history and bad blood, that most Europeans can’t really understand what’s going on.

So, with Christmas stockings in mind, what are the best new books/sources in English on modern Russia? (or in French) And any on the ex-Soviet new member states and their relations with Russia?

More generally, how do we Europeans come to terms with a resurgent Russia (without the Germans breaking ranks)? Should we continue to woo the Near Abroad? Even when it’s clear the Belarussians are only courting us to wind up Putin, and we’ve wrongly encouraged the Georgians to believe they’re not on their own?

Big questions for a Friday afternoon. But maybe while CT’s US readers are sleeping off the turkey, some of the rest of us can think about how Europe in particular needs to approach Russia.

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11.28.06 at 10:39 pm

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1

Matt 11.24.06 at 9:54 am

I’m afraid I can’t recommned any books but want to assure that you when you say, “From the outside, Russia looks like a poisonous nest of oligarchs, ex-spies, energy tycoons who are both oligarchs and ex-spies, and an increasingly indifferent populace and authoritarian centre.” that it looks like this from the inside as well. You should add growing, and increasingly agressive and violent, nationalism and fascism (not used rhetorically here- it’s a self-applied term) and more. Watching the state-run TV news I’d say that war w/ Georgia is less than a year off, probably after staged provocations of some sort. (Apartment bombs worked well for that last time but maybe they’ll try something else now.)

2

Matt 11.24.06 at 10:01 am

Now that I think of it a bit more I cannot offer any better books for understanding Russia than those written by Matt Maly. See here for a selection:
http://matthew-maly.ru/ His “Understanding Russia” (for which he was thrown out of USAID) was a truly essential book, and I strongly suspect his new ones are good, too.

3

abb1 11.24.06 at 10:41 am

exile.ru

4

Richard 11.24.06 at 10:50 am

I don’t have a single book to recommend, but I know of a man who might:
John Schoeberlein operates a massive clearinghouse of information on all related topics, maybe with a bias towards central Asia, rather than eastern Europe. http://cesww.fas.harvard.edu/

The mailing list:
http://lists.fas.harvard.edu/mailman/listinfo/central-eurasia-l
is full of interesting stuff, including frequent job postings in Bishkek, if that’s your thing…

5

P O'Neill 11.24.06 at 11:03 am

With the London death increasingly looking like “we want you to know we did it but you’ll never be able to prove it”, it’s hard to disagree with your basic assessment. One question: was NATO expansion to Russia’s borders really such a good idea? It seems that this idea sprang mainly from the Baltic countries eager to strut their pro-American credentials, defence industries keen on all the armaments upgrades, all helped along by the Cheney-Rumsfeld bad-cop approach to Russia, complementing Bush’s “Pootie-Poot” cooings. But what exactly did the western European countries think would be the reaction when the bear was irritated?

6

Maria 11.24.06 at 11:22 am

Fair point, P. Though I think you also have to try and go back in time and get into the mindset of the Baltics etc. immediately post-collapse. NATO membership may well have seemed an essential defensive move for them.

7

finnsense 11.24.06 at 2:01 pm

Indeed, I shouldn’t blame the Baltics. Not everyone is as comfortable as we Finns with perpetually sucking up to Russia in the hope they will leave us alone. Really, it’s excruciating. They recently twice invaded Finnish airspace and we barely complained. They are also in the process of expanding the border zone between our countries with no explanation.

8

abb1 11.24.06 at 2:03 pm

NATO membership may well have seemed an essential defensive move for them.

Hmm, how come Finland never felt that way?

9

abb1 11.24.06 at 2:05 pm

Wow, what a blog – you get a response before you post your question.

10

abb1 11.24.06 at 2:34 pm

Still, it’s been what? almost 70 years since the Soviet-Finnish war and somehow they not only managed to survive, but also to have a beautiful, peaceful, rich and well-balanced (or so I heard) country there. Better than many NATO members. Go figure.

11

no one 11.24.06 at 2:55 pm

chechnya: Europe’s been pretty quiet about this, and despite Russia’s incredibly vicious war there. Well, that’s not quite true: the Council of Europe have expressed their “concern” about Russia’s actions there for some time now, but no one seems to want to do more than that.

the jamestown foundation has a good weekly update on happenings in chechnya:
http://www.jamestown.org/publications_view.php?publication_id=1

Not read any recent books on chechnya, although from memory anatol lieven wrote a book on chechnya-russian relations which was quite analytical, but assumed one knew something already about chechnya’s history.

12

Daragh McDowell 11.24.06 at 4:06 pm

Well Maria I have a shelf-full of books here from the old MPhil you’re more than welcome to (I particularly reccomend anything written by Robert Service or Geoffrey Hosking,) but I think the very phrasing of the debate is slightly western-centric.

First off, whatever quibbles we might have with Putin’s authoritarian style, for the people of Russia it is infinitely better than the travesty that was the Yeltsin presidency. Putin has recentralised power in Moscow yes, but it was in real danger of evaporating in the capital altogether and balkanising the whole country. Many of the autonomous republics set up their own brutal regional dictatorships (such as the ones in Kalmykia and Tatarstan) simply because the centre couldn’t afford to pay the armed formations stationed on their territory, which leaders like Shamayev and Illyumzhinov then bought. Putin, for all his flaws has restored central governance which the country desperately needed. Moreover, a strong Russia with a unitary government is better for the West too. The infamous ‘dash to Pristina’ at the end of the Kosovo crisis wasn’t the result of any mad Russian desire to show up the West, but rather a Defence Ministry making policy on its own without consulting the ministry of Foreign affairs, or possibly even the President. An entire quasi-state, the Republic of Transdniester was created in 1992 on the whim of the local Soviet General, Alexander Lebed. However bad dealing with Putin might be, its better than dealing with a sozzled incompetent, with no control over his own country.

And as for this business with Litvinenko, there’s a very real possibility that the FSB didn’t do it. A string of murders has been rocking Russia’s image in the world lately. Putin had no reason to kill Kozlov, is smart enough to know that killing Politikovskaya would cause more problems than it would solve, and would also foresee the kind of international shitstorm the Litvinenko assassination appears to be in danger of causing. This leads me to believe that there are either elements of the Russian security apparatus getting out of control, which should worry us all, or that this could be a ‘false-flag’ operation. Boris Berezovsky, Putin’s bitter foe and Litvinenko’s patron, is certainly no angel, having cheerfully participated in the wholesale ransacking of state assets in 1996, and probably helped put Putin into power in the first place thinking he could control him. He singlehandedly helped undermine the Orange Revolution by claiming (possibly correctly) that he bankrolled the whole thing, in order to get a passport and citizenship. Most of the Ukrainians I know here were participants in the Orange demos, but don’t take kindly to the idea of their country being the political plaything of an exiled billionaire.

Russia does have its own very real security economic and political interests in the ‘near-abroad’ (which lest there is any confusion consists exclusively of the former Soviet states, minus the baltics, and not the Warsaw Pact) and it gets extremely antsy when NATO starts to step onto what it considers its turf (just as America gets antsy when the Russian’s start selling combat aircraft to Venezuela.) To call it ‘the jealous wifebeater of Europe and Central Asia’ is a little simplistic. Last time I checked Nursultan Nazarbaev’s Kazakhstan wasn’t too displeased with its relationship with Moscow, nor is Tajikistan, Armenia and Belarus. While we seek to engage with these states (as we should) we have to remember that their dictatorships are A) entirely domestic, and B) are not simple clients of Moscow, but have their own levers to pull too (Nazarbaev, in particular, is extremely adept at playing the Kremlin like a harp when it suits his purposes.) But when we say ‘Democracy’ it makes them break out in a cold sweat. The question today is more about whether we’re willing to sacrifice our democratic principles and let Kazakhstan chair OSCE in 2009 or some similar accomodation, or let them turn to altogether more undemanding international partners.

All this is rather long and turning into something of an apologia for Russia, which I don’t mean it to be. But throughout the Cold War and right up to the present day we’ve spoken of ‘dealing’ with Russia in terms of ‘countering’ Russia, and never really accepting that it has its own interests, values, priorities etc. This simply feeds back to a perception (held by the elite and the populace at large believe you me) that the West is out to get them. And that is the single greatest stumbling block to forming a real relationship with the Russians.

13

abb1 11.24.06 at 4:30 pm

Putin [...] is smart enough to know that killing Politikovskaya would cause more problems than it would solve…

Well, yeah, right, but powerful people often do think with their dicks. Nixon was planning to murder Jack Anderson – same deal, mafia-style hit; and I don’t know if Putin is much more rational.

14

Seth Edenbaum 11.24.06 at 4:48 pm

“NATO membership may well have seemed an essential defensive move for them.”

What does their interest have to do with NATO’s decsion?
[was it Tudjman's fault Kohl was stupid enough to give the thumbs up to Croatia?]

15

Doug 11.24.06 at 4:50 pm

Russia certainly has its own interests and priorities. That’s why EU and NATO membership for the Baltics et al. was and is a good idea. Europe has interests and priorities, too, and they are not congruent with Russia’s and sometimes must be pursued in the face of Russian opposition. Europe should not be afraid of this situation.

(Side note on 5 above: NATO bordering Russia is nothing new. See also Norway, Alaska and, in the old days, Turkey.)

Also, and to be a bit cyncial, it’s better for Europe if Russia is fiddling around with Georgia than with Lithuania or Poland. Of course it would be better still if Russia were not fiddling around with Georgia and Moldova either and were instead offering an attractive model of integration, in competition with the EU. But that seems to be beyond the present Russian regime.

Let’s also not ascribe a spurious unity of interests and purpose to Russian actors either. As daragh mcdowell notes, even though this undercuts his thesis of a strong state under Putin, there are competing power centers in the Russian Federation. The murder of Litvinenko may not be as peculiar as the dash to the Pristina airport, but it does raise some questions about how far Putin’s writ runs.

For some parts of Russia, WTO membership is the very thing. For others, continuing to violate the Conventional Forces in Europe traty is the very thing. For others, subduing Chechnya is the most important thing ever. For others, selling planes to the world matters most. There’s lots of competing power centers, a not very sturdy institutional setup and, as far as I can tell, a widespread attitude that agreements are subject to constant renegotiation.

16

Daragh McDowell 11.24.06 at 4:59 pm

Doug said it all a lot better than I did, especially on how we shouldn’t expect, nor even want to be able to reach an agreement with Russia on everything, or even accomodate them on everything.

I would say though that while there is a strong state under Putin (or at least stronger state) the acknowledgment of competing power centres doesn’t undermine that thesis too much. There are extra-governmental and even intra-governmental competitors in every state. Russia hasn’t done the best job of controlling hers, but she’s doing a helluva lot better than she used to.

17

zbd 11.24.06 at 5:00 pm

Try Black Earth by Andrew Meyers. It’s a more or less journalistic account of Russian life after the fall. If you’re trying to untangle Russia’s politics or economy, it won’t be much help, but it will add to your picture of Russia as a nest of ex-spies, oligarchs and oligarchic ex-spies. Needless to say, it’s not a particularly uplifting book.

18

Doug 11.24.06 at 5:18 pm

But back to books. Here are some highlights from my own semi-organized introduction to Russia over the last few years. “Modern” being a slightly slippery word here.

Lenin’s Tomb, David Remnick. Great book about the very last days of the USSR and the first days of what came after. Brilliantly written, vivid, sense of historic sweep combined with piquant anecdotes.

A People’s Tragedy, Orlando Figes. Excellent history of the revolution. Reaches far enough into the background to help understand the currents that were swirliing in 1917 when V.I. Ulyanov found power lying in the street and picked it up. Also decent on the Civil War.

Haven’t read Politikovskaya’s book, nor Lieven’s (Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power), though both are probably quite good.

A little Viktor Pelevin is helpful, in an odd way. Very odd. I would recommend A Werewolf Problem in Central Russia and Other Stories. (Boris Akunin’s mysteries are also a nice diversion and, given that they sell in the millions, may provide insight as well. Only four are presently available in English; French may be different, as nine or more have been translated into German. There’s also a Russian Booker Prize, winners of which may be good for more insight.)

Russia is the shadow that casts Ryszard Kapuscinski’s Imperium, and an earlier incarnation gave rise to Czeslaw Milosz’s The Captive Mind, a brilliant look at submission to power.

Highlanders, Yo’av Karny. Very very good on the Caucasus. (The region whose politics makes me think of fractals, but that’s another story.)

The Russia Hand, Strobe Talbot. First-hand account of negotiating with the Russian government during the Clinton administration. You won’t be surprised to hear it was difficult, or that working together to frustrate Iran’s nuclear ambitions was high on the agenda. How a Western government deals with the Russian government.
Either The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore or Stalin by Edvard Radzinsky but probably not both unless you’re really really interested. Both draw on previously unavailable files and research, both protray man and system.

That should keep you going for a little while.

19

Dan Simon 11.24.06 at 6:36 pm

More generally, how do we Europeans come to terms with a resurgent Russia (without the Germans breaking ranks)?

I assume you mean to ask, “what do we fashionable Europeans say about a resurgent Russia at dinner parties, when the subject comes up?”–after all, it’s not as if Europe will actually do anything to, about or with Russia, apart from buying energy from it. Maybe there will be an occasional diplomatic statement, echoing what fashionable Europeans are saying about Russia at dinner parties–but you can rest assured that Vladimir Putin isn’t lying awake at night wondering, “what will the Europeans do next?”.

And indeed, reformulated in this way, the question is really not that difficult to answer. The Bush administration, it’s true, hasn’t said much on the subject, and what it has said has been somewhat ambiguous. But the neoconservatives have reached a pretty firm consensus that Putin is anti-democratic, anti-American, and far too chummy with the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis, among other world troublemakers. That alone should be enough to start the excuses for him flowing across Europe. (I was going to end by sketching out a sample leftist apologia, but Daragh McDowell, above, seems to have beaten me to it, so I won’t bother.)

20

roger 11.24.06 at 6:48 pm

A book I just reviewed that is coming out from NYRB books – Vladimir Sorokin’s Ice. This novel is hard to describe – it fits in to the line of the grotesque in Russian lit, from Gogol to Bulgakov, but throw in a plot line a la Buffy the Vampire hunter meets the Gulag Archipelago. Hardcore stuff, man. It begins with a trawl through the skinheads and businessmen in today’s Moscow, the careless anti-semitism, the drugs, the consciousness that, unlike the rest of the “West”, the longevity for a person – especially a male person – in Russia is almost comically truncated, etc., etc.

21

radek 11.24.06 at 7:50 pm

I don’t know about ‘clumsy’ but given the history of Western Europeans keeping their promises to Eastern Europeans, I think Poland and the Baltics (and to some extent Ukraine) are just trying to look after their own interests. And that means sleeping with one eye open and fixed on Russia.

22

novakant 11.24.06 at 8:05 pm

no books, sorry, only anecdotal impressions:

What utterly amazed me speaking to Russians while I was over there was that they all seemed to identify with and love their country and culture very much, while simultaneously having not the least bit of hope that Russia would ever manage to be a reasonably democratic country where people can live in peace and enjoy relative prosperity; more or less vague allusions to Russian history and national character were given as reasons for this bleak outlook – maybe they had a point, I don’t know, but it was quite a diverse mix of people saying basically the same thing, they all displayed a kind of stubborn, loving resignation vis a vis their fate as Russians. Did anybody have similar experiences?

23

Matt 11.24.06 at 8:37 pm

What you say, novakant, is saddly right and pretty common. It’s a nice self-fulfilling prediction as well. “We can never be free or prosperous, so why try” is quite a common thing to here. Though he was a huge failure as a politician I never had more respect for Yavlinsky than once, during an interview, when the interviewer said this sort of thing Yavlinsky really lost it, pointing out that everything that was said to be impossible existed only a few hundred miles away and demanding to know why the interviewer thought Russians were so much more stupid than, say, Latvians, and saying that Russians should really be insulted by those among them who feel this way. Saddly it seems that no more than 5% of the population felt the same way.

24

JamesP 11.24.06 at 9:16 pm

To answer the original question, there’s a plethora of foreign correspondent books, out of which I liked David Satters’ DARKNESS AT DAWN best, though it has some odd biases. Anna Reid’s BORDERLANDS is interesting on the Ukraine. Vadim Volkov’s VIOLENT ENTREPENEURS is a sociological study of Russian crime and business in the 90s; very well-written and interesting in its comparisons to violence, capitalism, and state power (or lack thereof) in societies elsewhere. Also there’s a bit where one gang steals a tank to intimidate their enemies that has to be read to be believed. On a more personal level, I liked BLACK EARTH CITY, about living in a Russian city on the border with Ukraine in the early 90s, very much indeed, and it gives a real feel for life in the new Russia, even if it’s somewhat out of date.

25

W. Shedd 11.24.06 at 10:29 pm

It is overly simplistic to ask for a book to help you understand Russia. Russia, like any other nation, defends its national interests. Generally it isn’t too hard to figure that out. All too often, it might do this in an overly proud fashion – but it is certainly far from the only country to behave that way.

It is hard to believe that the Russian government would poison Litvinenko in such an obvious fashion, just days before its EU summit. I have the feeling that if they wanted to do him in, it could be done in a fashion that would never point back to them. Polonium-210 is such an extremely rare compound (only 100 grams are manufactured each year) that it points to a government or extremely well-vested agency. Did someone really think that it wouldn’t be detected at all? It makes you wonder who is running things there …

Then again, if the Russian government didn’t do it under Putin’s orders, it points to even more troubling problems, as discussed by others. Further, if they didn’t do it … they certainly could find out who did and appear more than apathetic to the situation.

26

llewellyn 11.25.06 at 2:33 am

I would think that a combination of firmness and engagement would work once again. The official Russia seems to be in the grip of the old territorial and geopolitical aggressive nationalism, but it would seem that there still is some sort of hope for the civil society being built on the grassroot level. For the official Russia we should be respectful but firm (they are ridiculously touchy about their national “honour” or whatever) and continue commercial and cultural engagement on the societal level.

As a Finn I would not completely agree that we are simply “sucking up” to Russia, it is just being pragmatic and has worked better than being idealistic and high minded (as in the 1930’s). We did not join NATO, but then again we had not been on the receiving end of Russian occupation and colonization – for the Baltic countries their actions after independence have been completely rational, and actually very effective and sophisticated in hindsight: they are exactly where they have wanted to be, despite all the wise experts in the West always prophesizing that it will not be possible…

27

Elliott Oti 11.25.06 at 3:00 am

Dan Simon wrote:
But the neoconservatives have reached a pretty firm consensus that Putin is anti-democratic, anti-American, and far too chummy with the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis, among other world troublemakers.

Neoconservatives say that about everyone.

28

naivereader 11.25.06 at 3:07 am

To answer the original question, you can gain understanding of modern Russia by following relevant current events. Just google “russia” or “putin” for that matter in google news search a few times a week. After some time and not before glancing over dozens of pieces of mostly biased, fragmented information you will be able to discover facts-behind-the facts: Why the “democratic 90’s” were the reign of plutocracy with mass media outlets effectively under oligarchic control, why Yukos-Khodorkovski affair was a matter of preserving russian state sovereignty in foreign (sic) and internal affairs, what is the real meaning of NATO’s expansion eastwards for Russia and EU – lest we forget that Russia itself unilaterally withdrew from these same countries often without first building new barracks for its so hastily returning troops…

Following Russia’s diplomatic efforts you can see how Russia seeks to achieve its (and EU’s) goal of longterm security by pursuing the policy of genuine integration and mutual critical economic interdependence with Europe first and foremost (along the lines of visionary German Ministry of Foreign Affairs politics) and who gets nervous…

You will also be able to learn a lot about Russia’s internal developments, like recent firing of 19 high ranking officials including ministers and FSB (former KGB) generals without(!) bringing the charges of corruption ( – you can not really push all the way without destabilizing the whole state system if the problem is ubiquitous), or ongoing reform in the army – away from conscription and against infamous hazing problems, or a programme to support mothers, or consolidation of 3 political parties into a new one – away from possibility for nationalist or communist elements gaining significant political ground… You will not find all these facts in the books. Not yet.
It is history in the making. It’s an exciting reading when you are lucky to get piece of high quality investigative reporting or analisys. More often, I admit, you have to suffer through preconceptions and biases of the author, but there are no shortcuts.

Here too, you can meet some knowledgable folks expressing their opinions in us-versus-them mentality. Our global village will not susutain such a mindset. If someone wants to be more secure than the other – neither will be.

We should have learned this lesson long ago. But then again…NATO expansion…humongous “defence” budgets…system of international law – a joke..public opinion ignored or manipulated in order to go to war…this is our common problems.. we all loose if we try to win unilaterally. Sorry for the truisms but some need to be reminded.

Slogan for the day:
co-existence is obsolete term – common existence is ultimately the only mode of survival. You can use it as methodology while reading the news.

29

abb1 11.25.06 at 4:06 am

I noticed that Putin has been conspicuously pro-Bush (helping him win 2004 elections, for example), which makes me think that he must indeed hate America. Unless it’s just the easiest way to keep oil prices up.

30

Cole 11.25.06 at 5:48 am

I really liked Kremlin Rising by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser from the Washington Post. But I have no expertise on the subject, so lower your confidence in the recommendation accordingly.

31

Matt 11.25.06 at 9:08 am

As for whether Russia would be so open about Killing Litvinenko now I’m less skeptical. See, for example, the assasination in Qutar of a former Chechan leader where it took all of a few days to capture the Russian agents who did it since, while it was a professional hit, they were also the obvious ones who did it. Or, for example, the obvious FSB involvement in the ‘fake’ bomb in Ryazan (one of the things Litvinenko is famous for talking about, but not one you need to take his word for.) Or the jabbing of a enraged mother of a sailor who died on the Kursk with sedatives _on national television!_ Or shooting a school full of children held hostage with tank and high-explosive rounds. These guys may be effective in one sense, but subtle and careful they are not. As for up-to-date information, you might subscribe to the Johnson’s Russia list (assuming it’s still going). It was the best source for all the news and analysis in and out of Russia, including Russia and foreign news and commentary by experts. It’s a bit of an over-load at times, sometimes sending out 4-5 long emails a day with all the news, but an invaluable source for those who can deal with it.

32

llewellyn 11.25.06 at 4:34 pm

Of visionary German Foreign Ministers Joachim von Ribbentrop comes so easily to mind… It is always refreshing to see Germany cutting ground from below the rest of Europe in cahoots with Moscow, a warm sense of deja-vu indeed. This noted, most of the official Russian rhetoric is so much hot air (even the continuous threatening tones towards the Baltics) – the hard reality is still continuing economic co-operation. There is certainly a tendency, a warm hankering towards the old fashioned territorial geopolitics (those certainly were the days) but Europe should not panic yet, it might easily blow over after few more years of economic transition.

33

Daragh McDowell 11.25.06 at 5:23 pm

No 31: Johnson’s Russia list is indeed still operating but its usefulness is extremely limited, and if its the main source of your Russia news… well lets just say you’re getting a distorted picture to say the least.

No 32: I invoke Godwin’s Law on thee. BTW what threatening remarks towards the Baltics can you actually specifically reference to support your claims?

34

Dick Durata 11.25.06 at 5:38 pm

I highly recommend this two part article in the Asia Times, “New World Oil Order”
Part I
Part II

35

llewellyn 11.25.06 at 5:49 pm

You really need a list? I can supply it, no problem.

In 1945 Estonia had lost 25% its citizens – the stalinization of the society resumed: the remaining vestiges of national elites were liquidated and preparations for the collectivization of the agriculture were started. Estonia was not liberated in 1945.

MOSCOW, November 15 (RIA Novosti) – The most senior member of Russia’s upper house of parliament harshly criticized Estonia’s legislature Wednesday for passing a bill that would authorize the demolition of the EU newcomer’s Soviet WWII memorials.

Estonia’s State Assembly passed the bill on a first reading last Thursday, paving the way for dismantling monuments to Soviet soldiers who died liberating the Baltic state from German invaders during the Second World War, but are themselves seen by many Estonians as occupiers.

Estonia declared its independence from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, and joined NATO and the European Union in 2004.

Speaking to reporters, Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov said: “History does not forgive such immoral acts, such moral blunders.”

He said the Russian parliament might respond by adopting a special resolution.

Last week, flamboyant ultranationalist lawmaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a deputy speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, suggested severing diplomatic ties with Estonia and imposing an economic blockade on the former Soviet republic.

Zhirinovsky, known for his outspoken statements, said the bill was an attempt to review the outcome of WWII, and that Russia should take a tough line with the “pro-Nazi state emerging on its borders.”

The Russian leadership has repeatedly called the EU’s attention to Estonia’s attempts to glorify Nazi Germany, including with parades by former Nazi SS fighters, as well as to its discriminatory policies vis-a-vis ethnic Russians who moved to the republic following its annexation by the Soviet Union in 1940.

Many members of Estonia’s Russian community are denied citizenship and employment rights, and cannot receive an education in their native language.

36

Dan Simon 11.25.06 at 6:20 pm

Neoconservatives say that about everyone.

Well, there are a few exceptions–apart from the US and Israel, of course, I think they’re rather fond of Australia, India, Iraqi Kurdistan, and probably the current Canadian government. I imagine there are others as well.

But yes, since they’re extremely pro-democratic, pro-American and anti-Iran/Syria/Hezbollah, it’s not surprising that they find much of the world lacking on those counts. Sort of like Crooked Timberites finding much of the world insufficiently concerned about equality, climate change and cricket, I suppose.

And to be fair, putting aside the issue of America, is it such a bad thing to be vigorously pro-democracy and very worried about Iran, Syria and Hezbollah? As opposed to, say, blaming most of the world’s troubles on those who are? (Or, worse, actively crushing democracy and selling advanced weaponry to Iran?)

37

Walt 11.25.06 at 7:08 pm

That’s what I like about neoconservatives like Dan Simon. Nothing, not even the total humiliation in Iraq that demonstrates the empty-headed cheerleaderly nature of their ideas, distracts them from attacking their true enemies: liberals and Europeans. Bravo, Dan, a fine attempt to subvert a substantive thread, and turn it around to your favorite subject.

38

radek 11.25.06 at 8:38 pm

No. 33 – but this is a context where Godwin’s law does not apply. There are legitimate instances where Ribbentropp can be invoked after all.

39

Dan Simon 11.25.06 at 11:18 pm

That’s what I like about neoconservatives like Dan Simon.

I don’t think a neoconservative would have expressed doubts very early on about the project of trying to democratize Iraq, as I did. But if you can’t think coherently about international affairs, I suppose mindless label-affixing is the only available substitute.

Bravo, Dan, a fine attempt to subvert a substantive thread, and turn it around to your favorite subject.

Actually, it was Elliott who shifted the discussion towards neoconservatives. I was making a perfectly relevant point: contemporary (continental) Europe lacks the stomach/spine/dangly bits to stand up to any country in the world that might conceivably not just back down, and therefore consistently kowtows to those countries, compensating by reserving its assertive wrath for those countries that can’t or won’t fight back.

Europe’s chattering classes have recast this pusillanimity as grand strategy, claiming that Europe’s role is as a counterweight to American assertiveness. Hence my prediction that (a) Europe will do nothing about Russia’s descent into tyranny, and (b) European chatterers will portray this inaction as brave opposition to American/neoconservative assertiveness.

I share Maria’s concerns about Russia under Putin, and would sincerely love to see Europe take serious, vigorous action in defense of freedom there. Sadly, it’s not going to–and, I venture to add, we all know it.

40

Matt 11.26.06 at 12:44 am

Daragh McDowell, I’m interested why you think the Johnson’s list is of limited use. I’ve not regularly followed it for a few years now (I’m too busy to keep up w/ the high volume) but found it to cover a wide range of sources when I did read it. What’s your opposition to it?

41

Walt 11.26.06 at 12:45 am

Ah, yes, the brave stance that those pussy Europeans won’t take. Russia is merely the backdrop that allows you to prove your superior manliness to those effete Frenchmen. I’m sure next week there’ll be some other prop you can use when you strike your next heroic pose.

42

llewellyn 11.26.06 at 1:49 am

Yeah, of course the fetishization of WW2 should always be suspected. The neocons are past masters: Munich this and Munich that, “Islamo-Fascism” (God, I hate that term) etc. etc. For outsiders this particular matter of different Baltic and Russian historical sensibilities would not seem so impossible to solve: the Baltics should aknowledge that the ordinary Soviets were mostly quite heroically fighting for their lives (and many do understand it) despite Stalinist terror, the Russians should admit that they did not liberate the Baltic states in 1944-45 but re-enslaved them.

For what it’s worth I think that it is the Russian societal discourse that does not seem prepared to admit any nuances or serious moral failures for their “side” – there are truth commissions and critical historians in the Baltic countries that address even painful matters, but nothing comparable across the border. One wonders for how long can those gigantic traumas and tragedies be buried under facile “patriotic” narratives. More sorrow and atonement, true rememberance should be in order instead of all those awful bombastic military parades, false and puerile official commemorations laced with crude chauvinistic rhetoric.

43

Elliott Oti 11.26.06 at 2:49 am

Dan Simon wrote:
[.....] lacks the stomach/spine/dangly bits to stand up to any country in the world that might conceivably not just back down, and therefore consistently kowtows to those countries, compensating by reserving its assertive wrath for those countries that can’t or won’t fight back.

Like picking up a small insignificant country and every so often smashing it against the wall, just to show they mean business, eh, Dan?

I share Maria’s concerns about Russia under Putin, and would sincerely love to see Europe take serious, vigorous action in defense of freedom there.

What “vigorous action in defense of freedom” do you have in mind, Dan? Military invasions, covert ops in Moscow, shock-and-awe, o-where-art-thou-Napoleon? Or are you thinking more along the lines of “chatter accompanied by energetic hand gestures?”

European chatterers will portray this inaction as brave opposition to American/neoconservative assertiveness.

American neoconservatives (or at least, those who still identify themselves as such) will be pretty quiet within the confines of their various think-tanks for the next ten years or so, so I’m afraid European chatter will be even more meaningless than that.

44

abb1 11.26.06 at 4:41 am

Simon, #36
(Or, worse, actively crushing democracy and selling advanced weaponry to Iran?)

Is this about the infamous Iran-contra affair?

45

abb1 11.26.06 at 5:03 am

…the Russians should admit that they did not liberate the Baltic states in 1944-45 but re-enslaved them.

I don’t know, I’ve been to Latvia many times in the 70s and 80s and it didn’t look enslaved. Certainly more prosperous than their alleged slavemasters.

So, I don’t think it’s quite fair to blame it on “the Russians” – why not blame it on stalinism?

The Russians suffered from stalinism just as much – or were ‘enslaved’ by it, if you prefer extreme rhetoric.

46

llewellyn 11.26.06 at 5:19 am

Well, as said the national elites were physically liquidated, the national culture and economy destroyed, the agriculture violently collectivized. Estonia lost about 25% of her population in mass deportations, as refugees, in executions, as forced draftees in both German and Russian armies. These grievous population losses were gradually replaced by Russian speakers (what other term than “colonizer” should be used here?), so that Latvian speakers are now for example a minority in their capital and have a bare majority of the total population. I don’t know, not my idea of a picnic, exactly.

47

llewellyn 11.26.06 at 5:20 am

ps. Not to mention that these countries were illegally and forcefully occupied and annexed to the Soviet Union…

48

abb1 11.26.06 at 9:17 am

Of course there was annexation and, I suppose, what could be called colonization (though I don’t think they really cared about ethnicity) – perpetrated by Stalin’s regime. All I’m saying is that assigning the blame to “the Russians” seems kinda foolish and counterproductive. Might even be considered bigoted, which is, I guess, what most Russians feel.

49

Matt 11.26.06 at 9:28 am

The colonization efforts are still having bad effects for, for example, Moldova (and in a different way Georgia) today. And when you are from a tiny country with an unsual language spoken by a small number of people you tend to feel (at least somewhat rightly) worried about colonization by a large neighbor not known for being keen on promoting difference (at least not consistantly so.) It’s true that many Russians claim that, say, Estonians are bigots, but it’s a rare Russian who says this that has thought very hard about why Estonians might not feel so chummy towards Russia, especially considering how Russia is still trying to cut pieces off of its neighbors.

50

giustino 11.26.06 at 3:48 pm

Let me just set everyone straight here about Estonia.

Estonians make up about 70 percent of the population in Estonia. 15 years ago it was closer to 60 percent, but it has grown since independence was regained. So this is undisputably the majority of the country.

In 1944, the Estonian government went into exile when the Soviets annexed the country to the USSR. They remained in Sweden from 1944 through 1991. Estonian law, legally, was uninterrupted. It never ceased to exist.

When Estonians regained their independence in 1991, they gave it to all citizens of the pre-1940 republic and their descendants. It didn’t matter if you were Russian (who made up about 9 percent of the pre-1940 pop.) or not – it was given to you because you were a LEGAL resident.

Those who remained were de facto citizens of Russia – the successor state to the USSR. They have always had the option to have Russian citizenship if they wanted, and many do. If they want Estonian citizenship, they have to apply because they came illegally.

You see, if you gave THEM citizenship for nothing, then you might as well give people that came illegally AFTER 1991 citizenship for nothing either – because they are BOTH illegal. The law is for everyone – it’s not just for some people.

Europe agrees with this policy, no matter how much Russia whines. And it works. The number of non-citizens dropped from 32 percent in 1992 to 9 percent in 2006.

So really, there is no controversy here.

That’s all I have to say.

51

abb1 11.26.06 at 4:40 pm

Yeah, it’s true that tiny countries have to worry about colonization by a large neighbor – or by someone far-away, for that matter.

…why Estonians might not feel so chummy towards Russia

I don’t know, if you think for a moment about the gracious way the Soviet Union disintegrated in the 1990s – unprecedented, really – I don’t think the Baltic republics have much to complain about. They didn’t have to fight for independence, it was just given to them. The Russian government never intervened in any forceful way (nor did it try to create any troubles covertly, as far as I know) to protect their citizens residing in these republics against abuse and discrimination. Pretty much an ideal secession, if you think about it.

But it could’ve been different, really, and it could’ve been much worse. So, all things considered, it seems to me that anti-Russian attitude there (if what I read about it is true) is – yeah, OK – understandable, but not really that understandable.

52

John Quiggin 11.26.06 at 5:05 pm

“If they want Estonian citizenship, they have to apply because they came illegally.”

Just to clarify, for a large number of those affected, I assume you mean “were born illegally”.

53

r4d20 11.26.06 at 5:14 pm

almost 70 years since the Soviet-Finnish war and somehow they not only managed to survive…

Thats because the Finns, by any objective account, shelacked the Russians. Russias dont want another “victory” like that one.

54

giustino 11.26.06 at 5:24 pm

Just to clarify, for a large number of those affected, I assume you mean “were born illegally”.

Well, that depends on your country’s nationality policy. In France and Germany children of non-nationals must also apply for citizenship. I have to stress that all of these stateless people have the right to apply for – and can easily be granted – Russian citizenship.

OR, they can do as many have done and apply for and receive Estonian citizenship.

The Estonian government’s policy is that it is not going to force its citizenship on anybody. It leaves that decision up to the stateless person.

Also, it should be said that the Estonian government did not create this situation. The USSR illegally toppled its government and this is a consequence of that action. If the USSR hadn’t done that, then this issue wouldn’t exist.

55

giustino 11.26.06 at 5:46 pm

I don’t know, if you think for a moment about the gracious way the Soviet Union disintegrated in the 1990s – unprecedented, really – I don’t think the Baltic republics have much to complain about.

After the Soviets stormed the Lithuanian TV station in 1991, killing about 14 Lithuanians, Gorbachev realized that if he was going to keep the Baltics as part of the USSR, he was going to have to kill a lot of people. He was going to have to act like his predecessor, Stalin – who had to kill hundreds of thousands of peoples to temporarily take over these sovereign countries.

That Gorbachev decided to avoid that was indeed a good thing. But we are no longer dealing with Gorbachev or Yeltsin – men who lived through the horror of World War II. Instead, we are dealing with Putin, a man who has never known that kind of conflict, and, if put in Gorbachev’s shoes, might have decided that killing several hundred thousand was worth it for the sake of his ego.

So, all things considered, it seems to me that anti-Russian attitude there (if what I read about it is true) is – yeah, OK – understandable, but not really that understandable.

Who said they were anti-Russian? I think, in general, they don’t have a problem with Russians on an individual basis. It’s when a bunch of ethnic Russians gather in a park holding Soviet flags that people start to get pissed.

It’s like “you come to my country, refuse to speak my language, and celebrate the guys that sent my grandfather to die in Siberia.” Yeah, you can imagine how that works out.

Yet, it isn’t that bad. I still don’t get why people as big a deal about it as they do. It’s a useful political tool for Russia to change the topic when their big problems are brought up, but is it as bad as the Paris riots last fall? No. Is it as bad as the immigrant situation in London (7/7 attacks) or Amsterdam (Theo Van Gogh murder) or Copenhagen (Mohammed cartoons)? No. Is it as bad as the immigrant situation in Russia where they deport Georgian school children? No. What about the US, where we are building a giant fence to keep Mexicans out?

While intriguing, this topic isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. The problem is being resolved. The Estonian government is naturalized people. Within a decade, they estimate, it will no longer be an issue. Why should we bother ourselves with one example of a government policy that is actually working? Shouldn’t we focus on policies that DON’T work?

56

mina 11.26.06 at 6:02 pm

So, all things considered, it seems to me that anti-Russian attitude there (if what I read about it is true) is – yeah, OK – understandable, but not really that understandable.

What is really weird is the understanding is that Estonia (for example) has some kind of really serious anti-Russian attitude problem. If you just look at the news or statistics you find NO national confrontations, no ethnically motivated killings or acts of violence. Only one who is advertising Estonia as anti-Russian is Russia itself. But even the local Russians can’t really see the “discrimination” nor they want to return to their homeland – why should they – they are living in country that has freedom of speech, pressfreedom, much higher living and education standards.

One must be able to make difference between individual and state – Estonia and Estonians have every reason to despise and suspect the Russian state that still insists its occupation was legal and humane (what an irony). But hell – that doesn’t mean one has to hate Russians.

57

giustino 11.26.06 at 7:43 pm

Well, back on topic, I’d like to pose the following question: What can we bloggers of the international blogosphere due to benefit positive development in Russia and to sustain an open and productive EU-Russian dialog?

I would like to, for example, know what kind of blogging activity is going on in Russia today. How can we help raise the profile of independent thinkers, especially when the state owns most of the traditional media?

Your thoughts.

58

LV 11.26.06 at 8:16 pm

Being from the Baltics myself I think it’s a real tragedy for small countries to have a giant and unfriendly neighbor like Russia.

59

radek 11.26.06 at 9:59 pm

Actually quite a number of people in ex-Soviet controlled areas are Russophiles, while at the same time wary of Russia’s rulers, past present and future. It’s a great people, great culture, much to admire. It’s just that they always seem to wind up with a really shitty government which they then try to export abroad.

60

RobW 11.26.06 at 10:48 pm

I quite enjoyed Boris Kagarlitsky’s Russia Under Yeltsin and Putin: Neo-Liberal Autocracy, but I suspect y’all might find him a tad left-wing.

61

derrida derider 11.27.06 at 1:25 am

The problem is being resolved. The Estonian government is naturalized people. Within a decade, they estimate, it will no longer be an issue. – gustino

Why does this para give me the cold shivers? What monstrous shades from Europe’s past does it conjure up?

62

llewellyn 11.27.06 at 1:43 am

Well, the original question… I basically agree that much of the official Russian nationalist and aggressive rhetoric is quite harmless in itself. It might not even indicate the direction of actual social change – of course, it is worrying that the liberal democracy is by and large now superceded, that certain crucial sections of the economy have been effectively nationalized etc. etc. Not to speak of things like the assasination of Politkovskaja…

But it is quite safe to say that Kremlin will remain a rational and fairly predictable international player (easily as cynical and selfish as France but without having French values and traditions). As far as Europe is concerned we might actually try to develope a common energy strategy and not cut solo deals with Russia and in general act more with one voice (fat chance I guess). A combination of certain firmness (but with respect towards the locally much loved great power status of Moscow) combined with active economic and cultural engagement should work. It has before.

63

mina 11.27.06 at 2:17 am

“Why does this para give me the cold shivers? What monstrous shades from Europe’s past does it conjure up?”

Giving citizenship to illegal alians gives you cold shivers? Estonia has been able to deal with the 30% of culturally an linguistically ignorant minority. Western Europa has something to learn.

64

no one 11.27.06 at 2:54 am

“Giving citizenship to illegal alians gives you cold shivers? Estonia has been able to deal with the 30% of culturally an linguistically ignorant minority. Western Europa has something to learn.”

Can you tell us something about the tests that were necessary to gain estonian citizenship?

I wonder how this might be have been applied to say, the Quebecoix in Canada (or, for that matter, the English-speakers in Quebec). Because you might say at Canada’s ‘independence’ that the Quebecoix constituted a linguistically ignorant minority. Perhaps they should’ve gone home?

65

lurker 11.27.06 at 3:09 am

@Abb1,
@45, I understand that is the way the Russians have usually looked at it: the state did not treat the other peoples any worse than the Russians so what were they complaining about. But if you’re used to being free, being equally unfree isn’t a big comfort.
@51, the disintegrating state was the USSR, and the Russian Federated Soviet Socialist Republic was constitutionally just another republic like Estonia or Tajikistan. Yeltsin could promote disintegration and take over Russia or oppose it and play second fiddle (if that) to Gorbachev. And for the supposed anti-Russian attitude, note that the Russians residing in the Baltics don’t seem to fear it much. Like Anatol Lieven noted in his book on Chechnya (mentioned upthread), in the Baltics the minorities knew they were physically safe, in Caucasia that would have been a very foolish assumption to make. Hence the difference in the recent history of the Baltics and Caucasia.

66

abb1 11.27.06 at 3:13 am

#42 Russians should admit that they did not liberate the Baltic states in 1944-45 but re-enslaved them

#56 Estonia and Estonians have every reason to despise and suspect the Russian state that still insists its occupation was legal and humane (what an irony).

Maybe it’s a hoax, I don’t know, but according to wiki:

In 1989 the Supreme Soviet of the USSR adopted a resolution on the “Occupation of the Baltic States,” in which it declared that the occupation was “not in accordance with law,” and not the “will of the Soviet people”.

If true, it’s quite remarkable I must say. And appropriately issued by the USSR (as opposed to Russia) – the entity responsible for the crimes.

67

abb1 11.27.06 at 5:31 am

I understand that is the way the Russians have usually looked at it: the state did not treat the other peoples any worse than the Russians so what were they complaining about. But if you’re used to being free, being equally unfree isn’t a big comfort.

Sure, there’s no denying that. I was only objecting (being excessively pedantic, perhaps) to #42 saying:

…the Russians should admit that they did not liberate the Baltic states in 1944-45 but re-enslaved them

“The Russians” did not enslave or re-enslave them.

68

ajay 11.27.06 at 5:52 am

abb1: “The Russians” did not enslave or re-enslave them.

Well, they sure looked Russian… who was it, then?

69

mina 11.27.06 at 6:02 am

Try make difference between rhetoric and reality – although USSR called itself a union of free people etc – responsibility is entirely on Russian shoulders as a legal successor of USSR.

It was fully russian chauvinist (nationalist) empire. Even the opening words of soviet anthem were:

Союз нерушимый республик свободных
Сплотила навеки Великая Русь.
( Unbreakable Union of freeborn Republics,
Great Russia has welded forever to stand.)

But lately Russian high officials and even Putin has expressed the desire to restore Soviet Union. At the same time they renounce the occupation calling it something like “voluntary affiliation” etc.

And again I emphasize that Estonia does not discriminate any minorities: any NGO human rights organization will tell you that. There is only one who whines – it is Russian- and he uses it as a weapon.

70

mina 11.27.06 at 6:10 am

There is only one who whines – it is Russia- and he uses it as a weapon to turn attention away from its own problems (like rising ethnic violence and violation of human rights…)

Do you know in what country are more than 60% of european neo-nazis?
I give you a hint – the country silently supports extremism…

guess

71

abb1 11.27.06 at 6:28 am

Well, they sure looked Russian… who was it, then?

I don’t even know what it means – to look Russian. It was the Soviet government. And if you want to talk about what people look like: Stalin certainly didn’t look Russian, and many of his henchmen didn’t look Russian either: Mikoyan, Kaganovich, Beria.

This is just silly.

72

llewellyn 11.27.06 at 6:42 am

Speaking in the context of present Russia: it is the Russian state that is now so loudly protesting the removal of a Soviet statue from its location in Tallinn etc. etc. Why, btw, if there is no integral connection… But fair enough, as regards the time of the re-occupation the description (one wonders how ethical or descriptive) would have been “Soviets” not “Russians”.

73

Alex 11.27.06 at 6:46 am

May I recommend and endorse Andrew Wilson’s Virtual Politics: Faking Democracy in the Post-Soviet World?

74

CKR 11.27.06 at 8:07 am

abb1 @51:
I don’t know, if you think for a moment about the gracious way the Soviet Union disintegrated in the 1990s – unprecedented, really – I don’t think the Baltic republics have much to complain about. They didn’t have to fight for independence, it was just given to them. The Russian government never intervened in any forceful way (nor did it try to create any troubles covertly, as far as I know) to protect their citizens residing in these republics against abuse and discrimination. Pretty much an ideal secession, if you think about it.

If you’ll look at the history of what actually happened, it was hardly a matter of the USSR graciously dissolving itself. Giustino, in #55, notes some of the violence involved.

Estonia was first to introduce most of the legal measures that led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, including a sovereignty declaration in 1987 and other measures that transformed the Estonian Supreme Soviet into a parliament. Boris Yeltsin picked up some of those legal tactics to make the Russian Federation independent.

And then there were the western countries, notably the US, France, and Britain, that kept reminding Mikhail Gorbachev and the more bloody-minded of his government that trying to reconquer the Baltic states by force (the 1940s version of which hadn’t been recognized by those western countries) would be taken badly.

And further upthread: I believe that Russia still considers the Baltic states part of its “near abroad,” even if it recognizes that military intervention in them is not currently possible.

75

abb1 11.27.06 at 8:52 am

Well, of course there was a power struggle in Soviet leadership in the early 90s, who denies it?

The result, though, was a remarkably peaceful transition – OK, I didn’t know about the 1991 Vilnius incident, so let’s say almost perfect.

The idea that Gorbachev didn’t start a bloodbath mainly because US, France, and Britain were telling him something is ridiculous and unfair.

And if ethnic minorities indeed have no problem living in the Baltic republics – that’s great, excellent. It is entirely possible that journalists make too much of it. Though I’m sure there is something, or hundreds of thousands people probably wouldn’t migrate from there.

And what’s wrong with “near abroad”?

76

CKR 11.27.06 at 9:27 am

Yes, the transition was remarkably peaceful, but it is mainly Mikhail Gorbachev and the leaders of the Baltic states we have to thank for that. Certainly others in the Soviet government had other ideas; consider their attempted takeover in August 1991.

The history of that period is extremely poorly known in the West. A simplistic view, like abb1’s, seems to have been part of what was behind the “planning” for the Iraq war: hey, democracy bloomed after the fall of the Soviet Union, why not in Iraq?

What wasn’t taken into consideration was the immense amount of care on the parts of the Soviet republics planning to break away, their building of governments, and the delicacy with which they took their steps. The violence in Lithuania came about as a result of a premature proclamation of independence, which the other Baltic states had avoided and warned Lithuania against. That’s not to say that the violence was Lithuania’s fault, just saying that the positioning was incredibly delicate on all sides.

77

Matt 11.27.06 at 9:27 am

abb1, you should consider some sources other than wikipedia. (and the exile). Your remarks look pretty silly to those who know something about the situation.

And,re #62, one big problem w/ the agressive nationalist and xenophobic rhetoric of the Russian government is that it’s helping promote a large population of aggressive nationalists and xenophobes all over the country who are engaging in ethnic cleansing as we speak, murdering the darkies, passing laws forbiding them to work and so on. When Putin, on national TV, says that the solution to ethnic tension is to get rid of the ‘criminal element, most of whom have a certain ethnic hue to them’ at the market places, well, both the law makers and the local populace know what to do and are doing it right now.

78

engels 11.27.06 at 9:59 am

It’s a great people, great culture, much to admire. It’s just that they always seem to wind up with a really shitty government which they then try to export abroad.

I completely agree (well, apart from the bit about culture obviously)… Oh, wait: you were talking about Russia?

79

abb1 11.27.06 at 10:05 am

Matt, I know: you’re the expert and I should just shut up and absorb your insight and your wisdom, but could you, perhaps, pick a comment of mine that looks especially silly to you – and elaborate? Thanks.

Ckr, that’s quite a leap, from stating the fact that Baltic’s transition was remarkably peaceful and gracious – to planning for the Iraq war. Lol. You should try acrobatics.

80

Matt 11.27.06 at 10:16 am

abb1, what’s annoying isn’t any particular comment as such, but the fact that you’re imprevious to argument and fact, that, as on so many posts, you keep repeating the same thing (or very slight veriation) despite having no real basis for your opinion other than what you believe and maybe a wikipedia page, and that you cannot admit you are wrong. The discussion on refugees some time ago was one obviou example, and this seems to be another. This adds nothing to the discussion and is a form of trolling. I don’t claim to be an expert in any serious sense on the topic here, though I have a lot of experience with it. I’m happy to get some new information and change my mind. I’ve yet to see this happen with you, which is why your contributions to posts are always a negative.

81

franck 11.27.06 at 10:20 am

This myth of a peaceful breakup of the Soviet Empire really needs to be put to rest.

Let’s list how many people died/refugees in the various wars surrounding the breakup of the Soviet Union:

Conflict: dead/refugees
————————————-
Armenia/Azerbaijan (1988-1994): 23,000/1 million
Transdniester/Moldova (1992): 1000/believed to be low
Abkhazia/Georgia (1992-93): 25,000/270,000
South Ossetia/Georgia (1991-2): 2500/80,000
Tajikistan (1992-7): 50,000/1.2 million
Chechnya/Russia (1994-6): 50-100,000/unknown
Chechnya/Russia (1999-present): 8000+/unknown
Lithuania (1991): 14/none

So, yes, if you ignore the first seven in the list, it looks remarkably peaceful. But of course, Soviet and later Russian forces were involved openly, in all cases except Tajikistan, in the fighting. (They supported the government forces in Tajikistan a little more covertly.)

If we add up all the dead and refugees, we get 150-200,000 dead and 2.5 million refugees, which is worse than Bosnia (100-110,000 killed, 1.8 million refugees).

82

abb1 11.27.06 at 10:48 am

Matt, if you’re against trolling, what would help is trying to avoid comments like this:

abb1, you should consider some sources other than wikipedia. (and the exile). Your remarks look pretty silly to those who know something about the situation.

I know it’s difficult to resist doing this when you are annoyed, but trolling to end trolling doesn’t really work, all you’re going to get is more trolling.

83

Matt 11.27.06 at 11:12 am

That’s not trolling but a general bit of good advice about life in general. You’d do well to follow it.

84

Jens-Olaf 11.27.06 at 12:00 pm

Reading through all these posts the memories are back. Staying outside the Baltics 1988-1991 but following each step to independence and the many set backs. It was a time of severe tension sometimes. I’ve just looked at the old videos from January 1991. If you really look at them, the Bloody Sunday in Vilnius, the Omon attack in Riga and others there would be a better understanding why there was no way but independence.
http://download.apollo.lv/Barikades/Flash/

85

abb1 11.27.06 at 12:18 pm

Matt, one thing you shouldn’t do when dealing with trolls is trying to have the last word. They will never let you, forget about it. In fact: you might be a troll if you find yourself trying to have the last word.

Franck, it’s not obvious that the Chechen wars belong to the ‘breakup of the Soviet Union’ event, especially Chechnya part II. And the Azeri-Armenian conflict started well before the breakup, though it was, of course exacerbated by it. And Georgia was a bit of an empire itself: colonization of Abkhasia by Georgia in Stalin’s years was probably much more intense than anything experienced by the Baltic republics. Too bad Shevardnadze didn’t go Gorby there.

Anyhow, the fact that you have to compare something as huge as breakup of the Soviet empire with little Bosnia is telling.

86

franck 11.27.06 at 12:32 pm

abb1,

The Chechen independence movement got started in 1990, right when the Soviet Union was collapsing. The two events are absolutely linked, even if the shooting war didn’t start until 4 years later. The second Chechen war is just a hangover from the first.

The Azeri-Armenian war was mainly fought over disputed areas between the two republics. Most of these disputed areas, like Nagorno-Karabakh, were deliberately set up to create mixed ethnic republics as an aid to Soviet control. So the origins of these conflicts are in Soviet policy. The same applies to Georgia.

Note also that these conflicts involved Soviet/Russian forces directly, fighting (usually) on one side. I don’t think it is honest to separate these from the fall of the Soviet Union.

Yes, per capita, the fall of the Soviet Union wasn’t as bloody as Bosnia. But it sure wasn’t “bloodless” or “peaceful”.

87

Matt 11.27.06 at 12:50 pm

you’re welcome to the last word, abb1, since each time you write something here you show yourself to be more of a no-nothing idiot. Please, do go on.

88

abb1 11.27.06 at 1:23 pm

Franck, I’m not saying that you don’t have a point, but
1. you should be careful with the ‘origins’ argument: one could plausibly argue that origins of the WWII were in the WWI (or that Eve’s apple is the origin of all the past and future bloodshed), but there were, of course, other, more immediate origins.
and
2. why do you find it so incriminating that the Russians took sides in these conflicts? The Americans and Europeans sent troops and took sides in Bosnia and in Kosovo, but hardly anyone is accusing them of initiating or purposely exacerbating those conflicts. Well, actually some do accuse them of that – are you one these people?

89

Matt 11.27.06 at 1:28 pm

gah- and I show muself to be someone who can’t type properly. Abb1 is clearly a ‘know-nothing idiot’, not a ‘no-nothing’ one, whatever that might be. Perhaps I should stop now.

90

Giustino 11.27.06 at 4:00 pm

Abb1, I would just like to say that I welcome your interest in Estonia and the Baltics. These questions routinely come up, and I enjoy thinking about the issues again.

I wonder how this might be have been applied to say, the Quebecoix in Canada (or, for that matter, the English-speakers in Quebec). Because you might say at Canada’s ‘independence’ that the Quebecoix constituted a linguistically ignorant minority. Perhaps they should’ve gone home?

The Quebecois were there for at least as long as the British settlers in Canada (400 years). Moreover, the Quebecois have played an integral role in the development of the Canadian state.

The Russian-speaking minority in Estonia that today lacks citizenship has been there for about 60 years. And it didn’t happen overnight. Russian Estonians went from being about 9 percent of the population in 1934 to about 24 percent in 1959 to about 30 percent by 1989. Today they are about 25 percent.

I think the term “ignorant” is being misunderstood here. The reality is that many Russian Estonians live in two main areas – Tallinn and the northeast in cities like Narva, Kohtla-Järve, and Sillamäe. In Tallinn, where Estonians are 55 percent, they have the opportunity to learn Estonian, and most can speak it. But in these other areas, where few Estonians live, it is more difficult.

When they can’t speak or read Estonian, it makes it hard for them to participate in the political process. They can read a translated speech by the president, for example, but they cannot understand what he is saying. And as you and I both know, a lot is lost in translation.

The Estonian state is introducing greater public education in Estonian language to help Russian Estonians participate better in Estonian life. Russia protests that this infringes on their human rights, while at the same time saying that Russians are discriminated against because they can’t speak Estonian.

But when 70 percent of your country speaks one language, how can you seriously get a job if you can’t speak that language? This is a simple question of assimilating a large immigrant population. It happened in New York in the 30s when one out of every four New Yorkers spoke Italian. I am one of the descendants of those immigrants. My Italian is basic, and I didn’t learn it from my parents.

And what’s wrong with “near abroad”?

“Near abroad” is a signal to others that Russia gets to meddle without question. The logic goes, “Well, Estonia WAS part of the Soviet Union and it IS Russia’s near-abroad, so what Russia thinks is really paramount.”

Russia also borders Norway and Finland – but are these countries its “near abroad”? Or how about other countries with large immigrant communities? Would Russia dare lecture the UK about how it handles its large Russian minority of 250,000? No.

So I hate that term. It means that Estonia is somehow fairground for Kremlin-masterminded KGB BS. Estonia doesn’t need any of that. It can manage its affairs. I prefer a country run by its citizens where they can sell whatever books they want and watch whatever films they want to a country run by a few inside men hundreds of miles away.

As for the Russians in Estonia, most of them have decided to learn Estonian and become Estonian citizens and Estonia wants them to stay. Others immigrate elsewhere – and this shouldn’t be surprising. Their parents came as immigrants to Estonia to have a better lifestyle – why would they stay when they can get wealthier still in London or New York?

And please don’t think that Estonians “hate” Russians.

Here is what Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves told Russian-speaking school children in Narva this month:

Living in Estonia, you are our compatriots. Exactly our compatriots – not compatriots of the Russian government. This means that your concerns are not concerns of the government of Russia or the president of Russia, but our concerns. We cannot get along without you. Estonia is too little a country to indulge in indifference to her compatriots.

Do these sound like the words of the head of a state that hates ethnic Russians and wants them to leave?

There is a controversy going on about a monument to Red Army soldiers in central Tallinn. It has been the subject of a lot of vandalism and there are dead soldiers allegedly buried beneath it. The government wants to move it to a cemetery – where most of these kinds of monuments are located.

The rightwingers want it put in the occupation museum. The Russians say it should stay where it is, no matter how weird it is to have a burial ground at a busy intersection that is constantly defaced.

I don’t have the solution, but I do trust that the Estonian government knows its own country better than the Russian government in Moscow. I will respect their judgement.

91

abb1 11.27.06 at 4:20 pm

Fair enough. I think the “near-abroad” could also mean a neighboring country with somewhat more close economic and cultural ties than, say, Finland. But I’m sure to some people it certainly does mean “Russian sphere of influence”.

In Vienna they have this kind of a monument close to the city center. Doesn’t seem to create much of a controversy there. Or maybe I’m just not aware.

92

abb1 11.27.06 at 4:31 pm

Oh, which reminds me: going back to where it all started in this thread – NATO. See, if I were Estonia or Latvia and wanted a real independence, I would try to follow the path of Austria, Finland, Sweden – to stay non-allied, to avoid becoming a client state with someone’s military bases all over the place and stuff like that. This doesn’t seem to be happening there. Too bad.

93

Giustino 11.27.06 at 4:33 pm

Fair enough. I think the “near-abroad” could also mean a neighboring country with somewhat more close economic and cultural ties than, say, Finland. But I’m sure to some people it certainly does mean “Russian sphere of influence”.

I think Russians are interested in Estonia for the Russian Estonians living there, not the actual Estonians who are closest – economically and culturally – to Finland.

Like, I said, I have no solution to the monument problem. Which is better – to move it or to have private security watching it 24 hours a day? There really is no solution.

Estonians really aren’t an “in your face” kind of people, but the small “Victory Day” rallies last year with the Soviet flag really turned people off.

Within a fortnight, many people that had no opinion on the memorial wanted it gone. The current government is moving ahead with plans to do so. I don’t think it’s necessary, but it is their country, and if they prefer to move a monument to a cemetery, then good for them.

94

Giustino 11.27.06 at 4:34 pm

Oh, which reminds me: going back to where it all started in this thread – NATO. See, if I were Estonia or Latvia and wanted a real independence, I would try to follow the path of Austria, Finland, Sweden – to stay non-allied, to avoid becoming a client state with someone’s military bases all over the place and stuff like that. This doesn’t seem to be happening there. Too bad.

Estonia stayed neutral from 1920 right up until it was occupied in 1940. It didn’t work for them.

95

Giustino 11.27.06 at 4:35 pm

PS: but I see your point. My personal hope is that NATO turns into a common EU defense organization, since the EU currently lacks one.

96

no one 11.27.06 at 6:07 pm

in relation to giustino (and mina?):

Yes, I take your point: the quebecois have been there longer; and they have contributed to the development of the canadian state. Have russians contributed nothing? I’m curious–I really don’t know. I might say too that 60 years is a long time for some. Some countries aren’t even that old. You might point to the counter-example of various countries requiring those wanting to migrate having to know the language of the country of destination, but that blurs over the difference between the newly-arrived immigrant, and someone who’s already lived there all her life.

I suppose what I was actually pointing to was the implications of excluding people by language. This is an old argument, but gellner once noted that there are 6000 languages in the world but only 180 or so states. What to do? Were it only so that western europe, or the world, no less, should be organised so neatly.

97

stostosto 11.27.06 at 9:03 pm

Great thread.

98

giustino 11.27.06 at 9:23 pm

Have russians contributed nothing? I’m curious—I really don’t know.

What I meant is this: when Canada was formed as a federation in 1867, Quebecois AND Anglo Canadians organized the confederation. They wrote its rules and established its form of government, together.

The Estonian state was founded in 1918 by the Estonian people who continue to be most of the people in Estonia and have lived there for about 5,000 years. Estonia emerged at the same time that Ireland, Finland, and many other European nation states emerged – all the product of the romantic nationalism that was dominant in the second half of the 19th century.

The impetus for Estonian independence, like Finnish independence was two-fold. First, it was a general reaction to tsarist Russification policies, second it was a reaction to the emergence of a communist government in Moscow.

At that time, Estonia was also multi-ethnic, but, let’s put it this way – the dialog that led to independence was all in Estonian. The Constitution was written in Estonian. Civic life proceeded in Estonian. When the Estonian republic was restored in 1991 it saw no need to establish itself as a new state. That is because it already had a state with a constitution and a history that was legally uninterrupted.

So that’s the key difference between the Quebecois and the Russo-Estonians. Still Estonia’s Russian community is very much today part of Estonia’s civic democracy. Most of them have citizenship. And so you see that one of Estonia’s major newspapers – Postimees – also publishes in Russian, and the prime minister has welcomed this.
Electorally, Russian minority parties have failed. But at the same time they have significant blocks not just in the Center Party but also the Reform Party. So in terms of today, as opposed to historically, they are contributing. But the dialog still takes place in Estonian as it is the majority tongue and the state language. I mean, should local German governments conduct their business in Turkish where they have many Turkish residents? I don’t think so.

I might say too that 60 years is a long time for some. Some countries aren’t even that old. You might point to the counter-example of various countries requiring those wanting to migrate having to know the language of the country of destination, but that blurs over the difference between the newly-arrived immigrant, and someone who’s already lived there all her life.

Ok, so that’s called amnesty. That means that if my family moved illegally to Estonia from Finland in 1992 and had children that whole family can automatically get citizenship if they wait long enough.

Oh, but that’s different because the hypothetical illegal Finns have citizenship? No it’s not, because every stateless person in Estonia can apply for and easily receive citizenship from Russia if they like. 7 percent of Estonian residents have already done this.

You see, if you extend citizenship to everyone born in Estonia before 1991, you still can’t grant it to the old lady that came in 1950 from Leningrad Oblast. And if you extend it to all who came illegally before 1991, then you are arbitrarily granting it to some people – again the pre-1991 illegals versus the post-1991 illegals. If the Estonian state’s legal continuity was uninterrupted, then these illegals are the SAME.

The only fix-all solution is a naturalization process where non-Estonian citizens take a test on the Estonian language and on the Constitution, like any naturalization test. You can argue that it is unfair, but you can’t argue it is not working.

As I said, in 1992, the number of stateless persons was 32 percent of the total population. Today it is 9 percent. Given the challenge presented by this admittedly unique situation, it’s not half bad.

99

Matt 11.27.06 at 9:29 pm

It’s nice to see the contributions we can have from someone who, a) knows something beyond a dubious wikipidia entry, b) posts in good faith.

100

radek 11.27.06 at 9:34 pm

Re 78: Gawd, I was just waiting for someone to say something really stupid, comparing Russian/Soviet governments, past and present, to the present US government, whatever problems it may currently have.
If you’re gonna troll, at least be original, like abb1.

101

giustino 11.27.06 at 9:43 pm

I am actually quite pissed. Russian PR agencies have won again. Instead of talking about Russia, we are mired in Estonian citizenship policy.

As the Estonians would say, “NOH, KURAT!”

102

Jake 11.28.06 at 1:15 am

Sadly, the paths of Finland and Sweden are not available to the Baltic republics.

Finland retained its element of independence because it fought the Soviet Union more or less to a draw in WWII, and made it clear that there would be no quasi-peaceful occupation.

Sweden didn’t directly border the Soviet Union, so would be difficult to invade. And while it did border Norway and Denmark, there was no threat of NATO occupying it.

Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia, on the other hand, were occupied by the Soviets, and as such have no desire to be occupied by the Russians, and it’s not unreasonable for them to think that being part of NATO is a better way to achieve that goal than being neutral.

Perhaps it will help you to substitute “Cuba” for “Latvia” and “The U.S.” for “Russia” when wondering why nations might choose paths other than neutrality.

103

abb1 11.28.06 at 2:22 am

Well, Cuba certainly would’ve done much better had it managed to remain independent.

They did try, but it was impossible. According to wikipedia:

Between April 15th and 26th [1959], Castro and a delegation of industrial and international representatives visited the U.S. as guests of the Press Club. This visit was perceived by many as a charm offensive on the part of Castro and his recently initiated government; the fact that Castro hired one of the best public relations firms in the United States supports that conclusion.

If indeed the Baltics-Russia situation today is as bad Cuba-US was in 1959-60, then the solution is obvious. But I don’t think so, and I typed a lot of words here trying to demonstrate that it’s not nearly that bad.

104

jonny-boy 11.28.06 at 3:42 am

I rather recommend Rise And Fall of The Third Reich. Many of the same dynamics are at work. Putin’s still in an awkward stage where he’s ended democracy but doesn’t yet have the institutions of government aligned to dictatorship yet.

The same book sheds possible light on Estonia as well. Hitler first accused most countries he invaded of maltreating German minorities, including in some places where the German minorities didn’t agree and they had to manufacture movements almost from scratch. Of course, Putin might be entirely innocent of any thoughts of invasion, but I sure wouldn’t put bets on it.

“… was NATO expansion to Russia’s borders really such a good idea?”

“whatever quibbles we might have with Putin’s authoritarian style,
for the people of Russia it is infinitely better than the travesty
that was the Yeltsin presidency.”

“It is hard to believe that the Russian government would poison
Litvinenko in such an obvious fashion, just days before its EU summit.”

Hi, Mr Putin! Good to see you on the blog.z

“consolidation of 3 political parties into a new one away from
possibility for nationalist or communist elements gaining significant
political ground”…

Or any of those nasty moderate ones. Or any choice by the electorate. How on earth did you get to such an undemocratic place in your politics? If you hate Bush so much, why are you placing so much stock in him, by being for whatever he’s against? Shouldn’t you choose to be for stuff somebody you admire is for, for reasons that make sense to you?

105

stostosto 11.28.06 at 5:03 am

jake #102:

Sweden didn’t directly border the Soviet Union, so would be difficult to invade. And while it did border Norway and Denmark, there was no threat of NATO occupying it.

Soviet Union bordering on Denmark? That’s news to me. They did occupy the island of Bornholm in 1945-6, but apart from that, I don’t know where that border is.

Dano-centric nitpicking apart, I agree with your post. The Danish perspective being that we have our own history of not only failed neutrality with a large powerful neighbour, but also a non-aggression treaty to boot. A lot of good that did us in 1940.

This experience more than anything led Denmark to conclude that neutrality might be good, but a strong military alliance is better.

There is a visceral feeling in this country that this applies to the Baltics as well.

As for abb1’s view that the Baltics should be grateful for the Russians’ largesse, I wonder if he has talked to any Russians? Like someone described upthread, they’re stuck on geopolitical power politics infused with the most mind-bogglingly endemic paranoia.

Neither are the Baltics by any stretch exempt from the Russians’ concept of the near-abroad. On the contrary, my impression is, Russians hardly even consider them proper countries. This impression I got from conversations with an otherwise quite open-minded and culturally refined Russian professor and economist visiting Denmark some time around 1988. And it has been subsequently confirmed with other contacts with Russian diplomats through the 1990s.

Plus, these countries are notoriously in the way of Russian access to the Baltic sea, which, in combination with the aforementioned Russian old-style geopolitical mindset, makes them firmly and consistently a foreign-policy irritant to even moderate Russian politicians. Their sense of loss is palpable, and enough to make any Baltic nervous.

106

stostosto 11.28.06 at 5:06 am

(I suppose I meant any Balt, not any Baltic)

107

Jake 11.28.06 at 5:35 am

Denmark clearly does not border the USSR. Sweden borders Denmark (and Norway and Finland) and does not border the USSR. This means that Sweden had options regarding dealing with the USSR that the Baltic Republics did not – i.e. remaining neutral.

It’s not at all unreasonable for the Baltic Republics to look at Russia, say “Hmm… odds of Russia deciding that they want to occupy us again? Not nearly close enough to zero for comfort. Odds of them being able to get away with it in the face of our proclaimed neutrality? High. Odds of them getting away with it in face of our NATO membership? Much lower.”

And the analogy to Cuba was meant to be more pre-Bay-of-Pigs. If you’re a small country in the immediate vicinity of a large and powerful country and the two of you have hugely different thoughts on how things should be run, remaining neutral is not as easy as it sounds.

108

abb1 11.28.06 at 6:33 am

Alright, y’all convinced me – the Russians are scary, they can’t be trusted, they only understand force.

When they seem to act considerately they don’t deserve any credit whatsoever – ’cause it’s only the result of France and the US reminding them how civilized nations should act. Yessir.

They use demeaning “near-abroad”, while their civilized counterparts have been using much more dignified terms like “the Monroe Doctrine” for centuries.

And finally these barbarians unreasonably get upset when their ugly, offensive and totally meaningless monuments are removed from neighboring capitals.

Case closed.

109

Jake 11.28.06 at 7:18 am

No, abb1, you have convinced me!

Clearly the Latvians can only justifiably bear a grudge against Stalinism; while admittedly Stalin died in 1953 and they were occupied until 1991, it does take some time to clean up after a leadership transition, and a few minor things can be expected to fall through the cracks.

And it was truly amazing how graciously and considerately they handled the breakup; why, the Latvians declared their desire for independence in 1989 and two years later all the Soviets did was send in a bunch of tanks into the capital and shoot up some random civilians, before their country imploded in a failed coup attempt. What more could the Latvians have wanted?

Anything other than studiously declaring neutrality in this circumstance is clearly ungrateful and unwarranted. Those bastards.

110

mina 11.28.06 at 7:22 am

“totally meaningless monuments are removed from neighboring capitals”

This is where you are wrong – those monuments do have meaning but often the meanings are historically wrong not to say just plain lies. For example the monument for “liberators of Tallinn”. When Russians arrived the Germans had already left some time ago, there were no battles around of for Tallinn – tallinn was reoccupied not liberated.

And as a monument for fallen soldiers, it should me moved to more decent place (with the buried unkonwn soldiers) 10m from one of the most busiest bus-stops just isn’t very proper not polite place for a grave.

111

llewellyn 11.28.06 at 7:28 am

Well, to put it in British terms – let’s say that the UK was occupied in the WW2 first by the Nazis and then by the Red Army. And as the result of the war she was brutally annexed to the Soviet Union. In the process it would have lost ca 25% of it’s inhabitants, so it would have gone down from 55 million to ca 40 million people. These murdered, expelled or escaped people would have been replaced by mainly Russian speaking Soviet citizens during the post-war decades.

Oh, and btw, the old cultural, political and economical elites would have been physically destroyed, you would not know when or where Churchill, Attlee and Eden were shot or froze to death. The same would go for countless of other people. The agriculture would have been violently collectivized leading to awful human suffering and the physical destruction of the traditional English countryside.

When the UK would have regained her independence in 1991, London would have ca 50% Russian speakers, in some shops you would not get service in English. (Not that there would be many things in those shops to be sold.) Whole country would have ca 35% (in Latvia it was nearly 50%) of non-English speaking newcomers and large sections of the land would have been throughly polluted or closed off from civilians. The economy would be in total ruins. Of course the high culture as we know it now would not exist: Socialist Realism would have been the prevailing art form throughout the whole idea.

And then you would have people celebrating and commemorating your country’s brutal occupation in 1945 as “liberation” and hear your perished relatives and compatriots being referred to as “fascists”. Just maybe you would not think about Quebec in this context. Actually in view of this gigantic, awful trauma that the Baltic countries have suffered they have behaved with amazing moderation and tolerance.

112

llewellyn 11.28.06 at 7:31 am

“era” not “idea”…

113

abb1 11.28.06 at 8:59 am

Jake, no, actually they hadn’t been occupied until 1991, no more than, say, Catalonia has been occupied by Spain or Alsace by France or Texas by the US.

What more could the Latvians have wanted?

You bet. There are hundreds of separatist movements in the world, at least a dozen just in the US. Puerto Rican separatists are hunted and shot like dogs.

Peaceful secession is a truly remarkable and extremely rare event. If you don’t understand it … well, OK. What do I care.

114

engels 11.28.06 at 9:31 am

Re 78: Gawd, I was just waiting for someone to say something really stupid, comparing Russian/Soviet governments, past and present, to the present US government, whatever problems it may currently have. If you’re gonna troll, at least be original, like abb1.

Radek, I didn’t make an overall comparison between the US and Russia (not that I’m sure why that would be so “stupid”). I pointed out that your words of wisdom vis-à-vis the Russians – “they always seem to end up with a really shitty government which they then try to export abroad” – fits the US rather well, at least in recent years. Just a throwaway remark, but if it upsets you so much, argument, rather than abuse, would probably be the best way forward.

115

Giustino 11.28.06 at 11:30 am

Jake, no, actually they hadn’t been occupied until 1991, no more than, say, Catalonia has been occupied by Spain or Alsace by France or Texas by the US.

No more than the US capital was occupied when it was burned by limeys in 1812.

Listen here Abb1. In 1920, the Russians signed the Treaty of Tartu which recognized the independence of Estonia “in perpetuity.”

So in 1940, with theor governments overthrown, their elites imprisoned or murdered, and their sovereignty erased, they were occupied. When a hostile army takes over a country, it’s called an occupation.

I have no sympathy for Russia. They have the largest country in the world. They have three huge Baltic ports (Vyborg, St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad). I shed no tears for their precious lack of access to the nice beaches of Jurmala and Parnu.

And they can go and hunt Chechens ’til every one in the Caucasus is dead. But if they ever lay a hand on Estonia, you can bet I’ll be there like Ernest Hemingway in Spain in ’36 – with TWO machine guns, keeping those bastards out.

Because I love democracy, and I am willing to stick up for my friends, even if some pushovers want to give Mr Putin everything he wants because he’s such a whiny bitch.

I’d rather drop an H-bomb on his Dacha than surrender any more democracies to the FSB. We’ve done that, it wasn’t pretty, and it’s not going to happen again. First it’s Georgia, then it’s Estonia, then it’s Poland, then it’s half of Germany.

No. As the Israelis say, “Never again.”

116

Giustino 11.28.06 at 11:35 am

They use demeaning “near-abroad”, while their civilized counterparts have been using much more dignified terms like “the Monroe Doctrine” for centuries.

Our Latin American policies have been disasterous for stupid ideas like that. Look at Chile, Brazil, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba – see how much they love America?

The US could learn a thing or two from Russia’s failed policies in east Europe.

117

Giustino 11.28.06 at 11:48 am

I’d like to add that a big war would be disasterous for Russia, and I think they know this. There’s only 150 million of them and dropping. They can’t afford to be so careless with their population as they once were.

118

stostosto 11.28.06 at 12:22 pm

Right, abb1

When they seem to act considerately they don’t deserve any credit whatsoever – ‘cause it’s only the result of France and the US reminding them how civilized nations should act. Yessir.

I actually share your sense of relief that the breakup of the USSR went as smooth as it did. Also, it is fair to say that the Baltic countries came out as probably the biggest winners of all the former Soviet republics.

I would even grant you that Boris Yeltsin’s explicit and subsequently upheld acknowledgment of the Balts’ right to self-determination was indeed a graceous act. (As was, by and large, Gorbachev’s almost complete refraining from the use of violence anywhere in the USSR during the often politically turbulent last years of that Union plus its east European empire).

There was a high-minded side to Yeltsin’s resolute manoeuverings during that revolutionary time, possibly a high-mindedness shared by most Russians.

But, there is also little doubt that those heady days have long since passed, and a severe hangover set in. Economically, and politically. And also nationally. Russia and the Russians, political views aside, perceive a painful loss of national status. There are definite undercurrents of regret, even if they’re not coming explicitly to the forefront.

I think it is difficult to fault the Balts for suspecting that such a regret-tinged hangover might be a possibility and that NATO-guaranteed security might come in handy. Quite apart from the fact that the Russians’ formal acknowledgment of their sovereignty logically implies that they’re also free to determine their foreign and security policies for themselves.

119

jonny-boy 11.28.06 at 12:51 pm

You bet. There are hundreds of separatist movements in the world, at least a dozen just in the US. Puerto Rican separatists are hunted and shot like dogs.

What an interesting alternate reality you live in. How do you get there?

In the timeline of most of the posters, PR independentists regularly speak their mind and run for political office without suffering any penalty. It’s just the violent ones that get shot, in the course of actually being violent. Ones accused of planning and financing terror are given full due process.

You might want to consider diversifying the set of media you read regularly a bit. I do that, and find that I learn alot more by reading different perspectives. Good (free, with registration) places to check include washingtonpost.com and nytimes.com. The Economist (economist.com) has 2/3 of its articles available free as well.

120

abb1 11.28.06 at 1:24 pm

#119 I do that, and find that I learn alot more by reading different perspectives. Good (free, with registration) places to check include washingtonpost.com and nytimes.com. The Economist…

Good for you, brother, good for you. These are all very different perspectives indeed. Keep at it, boy.

#118, what’s with the psychobabble – painful loss of national status? Definite undercurrents? Regret-tinged hangover? C’mon now.

There are crazy nationalists and megalomaniacs everywhere (even in Estonia, as you can see; in fact it’s much easier for a small nation to catch this crazy ‘righteous victim’ bug – and much harder to get rid of it), they make a lot of noise and in the US they even control the government. I don’t see much of it in the Putin’s government, though.

I talk to Russians all the time – Russians who are not skinheads or stalinists, they do exist, you know – and no one I know has any “regret-tinged hangover”. That’s just nonsense. Neither do I see their government being particularly aggressive in the “near-abroad”, in fact it seems amazingly timid – for a state with an arsenal of 10,000 nuclear warheads.

This may be a temporary timidity, of course, but nevertheless.

121

abb1 11.28.06 at 1:38 pm

Btw:
#110 When Russians arrived the Germans had already left some time ago, there were no battles around of for Tallinn – tallinn was reoccupied not liberated.

This sounds kinda disingenuous. What, did they just packed-up and left? Just like that?

122

Giustino 11.28.06 at 1:44 pm

I talk to Russians all the time – Russians who are not skinheads or stalinists, they do exist, you know – and no one I know has any “regret-tinged hangover”. That’s just nonsense. Neither do I see their government being particularly aggressive in the “near-abroad”, in fact it seems amazingly timid – for a state with an arsenal of 10,000 nuclear warheads.

The reality is that most of east Europe is not important for Russia AT ALL.

OK, Lithuania stands between it and the exclave of Kaliningrad. Riga was an important city in the Russian empire and a lot of Russians live there. And Estonia? They have nice beaches. But strategically? Pssh. They are building a pipeline to Germany. Estonia may link up.

Estonia in no way fits into any Russian geopolitical puzzle. I mean, 76 percent of its investments come from either Sweden or Finland. Russian direct investments are 6 percent.

As tempestuous as those Russkies are, I think they realized this as far back as 1998. Estonia may mean something historically – but it isn’t worth armed conflict. They basically came to the same understanding that they came to about Finland, when after losing a war to a bunch of Finns on skiis, they realized, “Wait a second? Why in the hell are we fighting for a land of lakes and forests?”

Russia’s got plenty of those.

123

Giustino 11.28.06 at 1:57 pm

#110 When Russians arrived the Germans had already left some time ago, there were no battles around of for Tallinn – tallinn was reoccupied not liberated.

This sounds kinda disingenuous. What, did they just packed-up and left? Just like that?

This link will tell you everything, at least from the Estonian side:

http://www.vm.ee/estonia/kat_509/pea_172/4738.html

# On 23 March 1944, an Estonia-wide coordinative body – the National Committee of the Republic of Estonia – was formed. The Committee’s aim was the restoration of Estonia’s independence on the basis of legal continuity and the Atlantic Charter that provided for the restoration of the independence of those states that were occupied during the Second World War.

# On 1 August 1944, the National Committee pronounced itself Estonia’s highest authority. On 18 September 1944, acting President Jüri Uluots appointed a new government led by Otto Tief. The aim was to make use of the brief window of opportunity, which presented itself amidst a situation of general disorder as the German’s were departing from Estonia and the Red Army was arriving.

# The government published the first “Riigi Teataja” (State Gazette) and over the radio, in English, declared its neutrality in the war. As German forces were evacuating from Tallinn, the national tricolour was raised in Pikk Hermann Tower.

# The government left Tallinn prior to the Red Army’s arrival. Most cabinet members were later arrested by the Soviet authorities and sent to labour camps in Siberia. Jüri Uluots managed to escape to Sweden where he died shortly after his arrival.

# On 22 September 1944, units of the Red Army captured Tallinn. The National tricolour was torn from its mast and replaced by the symbol of the new occupation, the red Soviet flag, in Pikk Hermann Tower. Fatal battles raged on the islands off the west coast of Estonia until the end of November. The southern tip of Saaremaa Island fell on 24 November 1944 completing the Soviet Union’s occupation of Estonia.

# The Soviet administrative authority arrived in Tallinn on 25 September 1944. Its main aim was to abolish Estonian statehood, including its national elites. In 1944-1953, tens of thousands of Estonians were either sent to labour camps or deported.

Finnish and Swedish newspapers reported on the formation of the new government before it was toppled. The cabinet members that escaped to Sweden set up the exile government, which met until 1991.

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abb1 11.28.06 at 2:04 pm

Estonia may mean something historically – but it isn’t worth armed conflict.

I reject the premise: that they – as a nation, assuming it’s possible to speak of 150 million people as one group – are in an expansionist phase now. They have enough trouble to keep together what’s left there. Their economy is undergoing a huge, incredibly huge transformation. Their social structures are in the middle of a transformation too. They are not really sure who they are.

This is going to take decades.

Of course this is an opportune moment to whip up some nationalism, but an expansionist war? No way, man.

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Giustino 11.28.06 at 2:07 pm

Of course this is an opportune moment to whip up some nationalism, but an expansionist war? No way, man.

Most people I know that are familiar with Russia say this. I used to live in Estonia and I am returning to live again soon. I have never been to Russia. I am curious as to where you get your knowledge of Russia.

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Matt 11.28.06 at 3:13 pm

I’d like to know where abb1 gets his knowledge about Russia, too. Mostly it seems to be wikipidia, which he takes to be a source for nearly everything, as you’ve seen. It’s not from, say, being in Russia, or reading Russian news papers, or watching Russian TV or the like. Largely I suspect it’s like his ‘knowledge’ on other subjects- he just makes it up.

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abb1 11.28.06 at 3:48 pm

Yes! It’s Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit! 1,506,665 articles in English!

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stostosto 11.28.06 at 4:52 pm

I talk to Russians all the time – Russians who are not skinheads or stalinists, they do exist, you know – and no one I know has any “regret-tinged hangover”. That’s just nonsense. Neither do I see their government being particularly aggressive in the “near-abroad”, in fact it seems amazingly timid – for a state with an arsenal of 10,000 nuclear warheads.

They’re plenty aggressive in Chechnya, it seems to me. The war that made Putin.

And I stand by my psychobabble. Russians are irrational about their status and emotionally invested in obsolete geopolitical power politics. Consider this: Does Russia rationally have anything to fear from Estonia’s, Latvia’s or Lithuania’s NATO membership?

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stostosto 11.28.06 at 4:55 pm

Or, indeed, from a seceded Chechnya?

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Jake 11.28.06 at 6:17 pm

127: Wikipedia has misled you in this thread, e.g. post 66. It was the Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian SSR that passed the resolution, not the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. Which makes a bit of a difference.

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jonny-boy 11.29.06 at 1:53 am

> Good for you, brother, good for you. These are all very different
> perspectives indeed. Keep at it, boy.

Of course they aren’t – I’m suggesting that they’d be a useful supplement to wherever you got PR separatists shot like dogs (I’m curious to learn where you got THAT nugget from).

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abb1 11.29.06 at 4:52 am

Filiberto Rios was killed quite recently (which is why I mentioned it), it was in the newspapers.

And if you want to argue that these guys are violent – yes, that’s exactly my point: typically violence is the only way to achieve independence. That’s not controversial, such is life.

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Elise 11.29.06 at 8:24 am

92: Oh, which reminds me: going back to where it all started in this thread – NATO. See, if I were Estonia or Latvia and wanted a real independence, I would try to follow the path of Austria, Finland, Sweden – to stay non-allied, to avoid becoming a client state with someone’s military bases all over the place and stuff like that. This doesn’t seem to be happening there. Too bad.

I think neutrality in this region is an illusion.
Austria and Sweden are in a completely different position.
As far as Finland is concerned, Tarja Halonen – the President of Finland – has become Putin’s personal cheerleader in the EU, along with Jaques Chirac of France. Finland’s EU presidency has turned into a fiasco due to the way they handle Russia.
Finland and the Baltic States have chosen different paths.

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giustino 11.29.06 at 12:36 pm

#128And I stand by my psychobabble. Russians are irrational about their status and emotionally invested in obsolete geopolitical power politics. Consider this: Does Russia rationally have anything to fear from Estonia’s, Latvia’s or Lithuania’s NATO membership? Or, indeed, from a seceded Chechnya?

They are all freaked out because NATO planes patrol Baltic airspace. But at the same time, their planes violate Estonian airspace all the time. And they don’t apologize – they deny it occurs. What’s an Eestlane to do?

If Russia had said, “Go ahead, join NATO, see if we care” – it wouldn’t have happened. But instead they jumped up and down and made threats and pushed the Baltics FARTHER away into NATO’s arms.

And it’s not just the US. Iceland, Denmark, and Norway, all supported NATO membership for Estonia. Does Norway present a threat to Russia as a NATO member? You may say “but Norway’s border is so far north”

Yes, but every Russian ship or submarine that sails out of Murmansk, the headquarters of Russia’s northern fleet and nuclear submarine arsenal, has to go through Norwegian waters. So in a way, Norway is a more threatening NATO partner than Estonia is. I mean what role would Estonia play in NATO? The forward staging ground for an attack on St. Petersburg? Trust me, if it came to that, whomever was making that attack would have no problem securing an alliance with Finland. Even neutral Sweden let Nazi Germany transport resources through its country in World War II. Let’s get serious here.

The Chechnyan independence issue is separate, and here’s why. Russia has all but confessed that it occupied the Baltic countries. They signed peace treaties in 1918-1920 with Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, recognizing them as independent countries in perpetuity. Even when they occupied those countries, they remained SSR – individual republics, not parts of Russia proper.

Russia has never acknowledged that Chechnya is anything but a part of the Russian Federation.

In my opinion, the Russians are wasting their time in Grozny. But they think that if one republic in Russia proper secedes then Tatarstan and Dagestan and Mari-El will follow.

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stostosto 11.29.06 at 6:47 pm

In my opinion, the Russians are wasting their time in Grozny. But they think that if one republic in Russia proper secedes then Tatarstan and Dagestan and Mari-El will follow.

Yes, that is probably part of their thinking. They may even be right, even if I actually doubt it. But my point is: So what?

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giustino 11.29.06 at 9:46 pm

Yes, that is probably part of their thinking. They may even be right, even if I actually doubt it. But my point is: So what?

Their foreign policy elite includes a cadre of weirdos who think that owning a lot of space on a map of the world means something.

I mean Russia still disputes the useless Kuril Islands with Japan, just because it wants to remain large, even if there is no easy way for any Russian from Moscow to get there.

In other words, some of them (the Russian foreign policy shapers) are nuts.

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giustino 11.29.06 at 9:50 pm

If Russia wanted to be successful it would be like Sweden and build cheap but stylish furniture (Ikea) and sturdy cars (Volvo). Once they realize that power is not in having people sing your national anthem, but in selling them a lot of affordable goods – they’d have fewer problems.

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