Friday, May 25, 2018

Russia Positioning Itself to Attack Ukraine from Sea of Azov, Ukrainian General Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 25 – Moscow’s harassment of Ukrainian shipping in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Straits may have a more ominous side than just limiting the transit of civilian and military vessels between Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea and the world ocean beyond.

            Vasilii Bohdan, a retired Ukrainian lieutenant general, says the placement of the Russian navy on the Sea of Azov gives Moscow the capability to attack Ukraine from the sea and potentially open a land bridge between Russia and Russian-occupied Crimea (

            Obviously, the existence of a capacity does not necessarily point to an actual intention; but it does have a profound consequence in any case: It forces Kyiv to take this possibility even more seriously that it has up to now and prepare to counter or defend against it, something that will put further strain on Ukraine’s military budget and preparedness.

            Bohdan says that he is “convinced that the situation in the Sea of Azov … is a logical step directed at putting further pressure on Ukraine” involving a serious reduction in the tonnage of shipping to the Azov ports and in the catch Ukrainian fisherman bring in.  But no one should forget that there is a military dimension to this.

            “Russia has never recognized the conditional border in the sea of Azov, and now it is understandable why,” the general says.  It will use this lack of definiteness to use its naval power against Ukraine on the sea and possibly in support of landings on the Ukrainian littoral.

            According to Bohdan, “the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine long ago made an assessment of this situation; therefore, the shores of the Sea of Azov are defended by Ukrainian forces as necessary. There are established corresponding defensive military infrastructure” to signal to Moscow that any Russian aggression in this sector would fail.

            “Of course,” the general continues, “one must not in any case cease to be vigilant; and considering the crude policy of Russia on the sea, one must more actively apply the factor of international legal institutions.  The Ukrainian authorities are already do this; but considering the bureaucracy in international courts, this process is moving slowly.”

            Ukraine must use these international institutions to make it clear to Russia that Kyiv will have even more support from other countries if it engages in aggression from the sea. Of course, Moscow may seek to ignore any new sanctions because, as the general says, “the Kremlin has in fact left the international legal field” altogether.

Moscow Military Journal Says Belarus ‘a Redundant Structure,’ Sparking Furor in Minsk

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 25 – A recent article in Moscow’s influential military affairs journal Voyennoye obozreniye says that Belarus has become “a redundant structure” and should cease to exist, a view perhaps shared by many in the Russian capital but one not surprisingly highly offensive in Belarus itself, even among Belarusians who want good relations with Russia.

            The Russian article, entitled “The Republic Belarus as a Redundant Structure” and written by military commentator Oleg Yegorov argues that Belarus should be evaluated as a business holding company. If it is profitable, it’s worth keeping around; if not as Belarus is not, not (

            Yegorov writes that since becoming independent, the Belarusian economy has “degraded so much that only two oil processing plants and BelarusCalcium are really generating a profit,” an unacceptable number for a country of ten million people. Much of this degradation, he continues, is the result of Belarusian state policy and behavior.

            And he argues that those three Belarusian firms now operating at a profit would function at an even higher level of profitability if they were within the borders of the Russian Federation and that many other currently unprofitable Belarusian enterprises would turn the corner and become profitable if Belarus simply ceased to exist and they became part of the Russian market.

            The Belarus Partisan portal in reporting this Russian story clearly balances between agreeing that the Lukashenka regime has not been good for the Belarusian economy or people and being horrified that a Russian military commentator should suggest that this justifies concluding that Belarus should be absorbed into Russia (

Moscow’s On-Again, Off Again Approach to Subsidies Not Keeping People in Far North

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 25 – Since the early 1930s, the Soviet and then the Russian government have provided subsidies to workers in the Far North to compensate for the vastly greater amounts of money they must spend on heating, food, and other services. Without these subsidies, few workers would have been able to remain there.

            But since 2007, when the Putin government changed the law, many people in the North have lost these subsidies, won their restoration in court, and then lost them again when regional governments didn’t pay or cut other funding or even demanded the return of funds already distributed (

            Georgy Chentemirov, a Petrozavodsk govorit journalist, has prepared a special report on this for the Meduza news agency. He says that until 2007, the system worked as intended with those receiving low wages getting sufficient subsidies to heat their homes and buy enough food for their families.

            But then the law was changed, and everything fell apart. Many people lost their subsidies and went to court to try to get them restored; but the case proceeded slowly through the judicial system and a decision was not handed down by the Constitutional Court until December 7, 2017, which ruled in favor of the workers.

            Many suffered during this period, but the decision did not end that, Chentemirov says.  On the one hand, some regional governments in the North citing poverty simply refused to pay, while others paid the supplements but took money away from workers in other ways leaving the recipients worse off.

            And on the other, because the court decision affected only the most poorly paid people, it created a nightmare: With subsidies restored, many of them have been making more than teachers and other professionals, leading many of the latter to think about leaving.  On top of that, some regional officials have tried to force recipients to pay back money that the government says they should not have received.

            The regional governments, again citing poverty, appealed the Supreme Court’s decision, but the court in February of this year issued a declaration in which it said that no explanation was needed for its earlier decision, thus reaffirming it ( But it is far from clear that officials will live up to those decisions.

                And there is yet another problem: enterprises that governments have sought to put pressure on to get more money for the subsidies have cut basic wages in order to provide this assistance, leaving the workers less well-off and putting in a legal twilight zone out of which they cannot easily escape.

            As a result of this on-again, off-again, on-again, off-again approach to subsidies, many in the North have lost all confidence in the government. At least some of them will have no option but to move out of the region. And that means that the development of the North, something Putin has declared a national priority, is unlikely to happen anytime soon.