Sunday, November 19, 2017

New US Sanctions to Be Directed at Putin Personally, Piontkovsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 19 – The United States is now prepared to impose “sanctions in the harshest possible form,” Andrey Piontkovsky says, thus directly affecting not only the business and political entourage of Vladimir Putin but also -- and in ways that change the nature of the game -- the Kremlin leader himself.             

            On Youtube yesterday, the √©migr√© Russian analyst says it is his impression that the August 2 sanctions law will be carried out “in the harshest possible form” and that “what is the most revolutionary aspect of the law” is that “this will be the first case when the head of the Russian state will turn up on this list” (

            The inclusion of Putin on this list is significant, Piontkovsky says, because normally such sanctions are imposed only on “absolutely hardened rogues and criminals like Milosevich, the Sudanese president, someone from Equatorial Guinea and so on.” For Putin to be on this list and for the Americans to put him there is thus a breakthrough. 

            He adds that US President Donald Trump, although he has opposed this measure despite signing it, “will not be able to interfere with the imposition of sanctions. “This is a government law,” and any effort “to sabotage it” will have the most serious consequences for the incumbent of the White House.

            In other comments, Piontkovsky argues that the approximately one trillion US dollars in illegal earnings of Russians now stashed abroad must be returned to “the first post-mafia government of Russia,” something requiring more changes in Russia than just a move to a “post-Putin” one.

            It is a mistake to over-personalize things in the Russian case, he suggests. Putin may leave office but “the essence of this mafia system will not change” as a result by that alone. But seizing the assets of Putin and other Russians held abroad via the new sanctions law will help promote the necessary changes in Russia and bring closer the day these assets can be returned.

‘The Tatar Language Saved Islam in Russia in the Past: Now, Islam Will Return the Favor,’ Mufti Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 19 – “At one point,” Mufti Mansur Dzhalyaletdin says, “the Tatar language saved religion” in Russia; “now, Islam will try to preserve the Tatar language.” And in that effort, he continues, the Tatar language will gain defenders not only among Tatar Muslims but also from Muslims across the former Soviet space and even the world.

            The deputy mufti of the Republic of Tatarstan’s observation about the past reflects the fact that Tatars provided not only the intellectual leadership for Russia’s Muslims but also provided many of the mullahs and imams in mosques in Russia during Soviet times. Indeed, many referred to these places in Moscow and other cities as “Tatar mosques.”

            But his suggestion that Muslims from across Russia, from Central Asia and the Caucasus, and from the Muslim umma abroad are now coming to the aid of the Tatar language, now under assault by Vladimir Putin’s regime, is the subject of an important new article he has written for Kazan’s Business-Gazeta (

            Tatarstan, Dzhalyaletdin says, has largely avoided the ethnic conflicts that have broken out elsewhere because despite hostility from some quarters, its people are tolerant and open to others, including Russians whose language they learn. They believe people should know the language of where they live. But the new attack on the Tatar language threatens to change that.

            On the one hand, he suggests, many Tatars already view the attack on their language as an attack on their nationhood and dignity. And on the other, they are likely to respond by becoming less open to others, possibly even opening private schools for their children to study Tatar if the public schools make this impossible.

            There are currently 1500 Muslim parishes in Tatarstan, the mufti continues, and they are following the order of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) to conduct services in Tatar. That directive is not only enthusiastically supported in Tatarstan, Dzhalyaletdin says, but by Muslim leaders throughout Russia.

            “It is no secret that many people send their children to England the US to study English,” he continues; but it is less well known that Muslims across Russia and indeed from the entire Muslim world are sending their children to Kazan to learn Tatar.  They too are prepared to defend Tatar against Russian attacks.

            To distract attention from its shortcomings and policy failures – such as repairing roads or building hospitals – the mufti says, Moscow has launched an attack on the Tatar language. What it did not understand is that Tatars would see that as an attack on their nationhood and Muslims would see it as an attack on their faith. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Post-Soviet Monument Wars Now Spreading Far Beyond the Former Bloc

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 18 – Fighting over monuments to the past has become a regular feature inside the countries of the former Soviet bloc and among them as well, with decisions to erect or dismantle this or that statue sparking controversies in many places. But now, such disputes are spreading far beyond the borders of what was that bloc.

            Often these disputes intersect with conflicts within the countries where the monuments were erected or involve differences of opinion about the foreign relations of those countries. One such conflict, which is likely to attract far more attention in the future than it has so far concerns an Abkhaz monument in the Scottish city of Kilmarnock.

            More than 20 years ago, the city authorities there agreed to the erection of a memorial plaque in honor of those Abkhaz who died in the 1992-1993 fighting between the Abkhaz and the Georgian authorities.  Scotland, which has its own interests in a separate future, was apparently quite happy to have this plaque erected,

            Then on November 8, the Georgian ambassador in London called for the statue to be removed because it contained language and symbols at odds with British policy toward Georgia and the breakaway republic of Abkhazia. Abkhazians and their supporters in the UK and in Abkhazia protested Kilmarnock’s agreement to take the monument down.

            Then Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister David Dondua said in Tbilisi that “no one had planned to remove or take down the monument as the Abkhaza claims but only to modify it to bring it into correspondence with British policy and then put it back in place in the Scottish city (

            That wasn’t sufficient for the Abkhazians and their defenders, and officials in Sukhumi and Abkhazian residents organized a protest, even adopting an appeal to the international community to intervene on their behalf in this latest battle of the monument wars (

                Levan Geradze, a Georgian conflict specialist, says that it isn’t surprising that this has happened. When the two sides can’t agree on fundamental questions, they often get more exercised than one might expect on secondary ones like monuments – and these disputes spread through the diplomatic world and on social networks.

            Giya Khukhashvili, another Georgian political scientist, adds that “polemics of this kind reflect the political impotence of both sides,” adding that in his opinion the current conflict is being spurred on by third parties interested in keeping tensions high and avoiding any serious negotiations. 

            But participants at a protest in the Abkhaz city of Gali are clearly furious and say they will be watching closely to see what happens to their monument in Scotland. If it is not restored exactly as it was, they say, they will erect “an exact copy in Sukhumi on Scotland Street” to make their point.

            In any case, observers say, it is already clear that the controversy around the monument in Kilmarnock is nowhere close to resolution and likely will spark morediplomatic and non-diplomatic exchanges in the future.