Putin’s Wars Come Home to Russia — Despite Moscow’s Efforts to Hide the Bodies

Russian combat losses in Ukraine are sufficiently large that they have already had an impact on demographic statistics, pushing up to anomalous heights the number of dead in three Russian regions in 2014-2015 and possibly prompting Moscow to send bodies to various places to conceal just how large these losses are, Tatyana Kolesova says.

Kolesova, who works with the Petersburg Observers group, told Radio Liberty’s Tatyana Voltskaya that the official figures were striking because the usual causes of mortality from accidents and alcoholism had not increased and yet the number of dead had soared in Voronezh, Nizhny Novgorod and Krasnoyarsk oblasts.

She says that the only conclusion she could reach was that “the appearance of this anomalous mortality in May 2014 was connected with the fact that a significant number of Russians were participating in military actions on the territory of other countries,” in this case Ukraine.

In these three oblasts alone, she says, there were 6312 “excess” deaths in 2014 and 2015 than one would have expected on the basis of figures for the pre-war year of 2013. Moreover, increases in the number of deaths was marked in every month and not in one or two as one might have expected from an accident or an epidemic.

And there is another problem: officials clearly registered these deaths in these three places even if it may not have been the case that the people who died were from there, Kolesova says. That leads to suspicions that officials in these regions but perhaps not in others were prepared to cooperate with Moscow in seeking to hide these combat losses.

Given how many problems there are with official statistics in Russia, no final conclusions can yet be drawn, although one other expert confirmed Kolesova’s findings that the death numbers she points to were truly anomalous.

There is no reason to assume that the Russian government isn’t continuing to do the same thing now to hide continuing losses in Ukraine and Syria lest Russians come to recognize what the true cost of Putin’s wars are for them, especially given Moscow’s denial of Russian involvement in the former and downplaying of its ground role in the other.

But there is another reason to suspect that Moscow is trying to hide these losses: It has a long tradition of seeking to cover up losses it doesn’t want anyone to talk about, not only in its reports about deaths from the Holodomor and the GULAG but in other far more recent events as well.

The author of these lines was exposed to a horrific example of this after the violent clashes between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in Sumqayit in February 1988 when Soviet officials shipped the bodies of victims to morgues across the USSR so that no one place would know just how many died and in this case how they died.

Over 2,000 Russian troops killed during Ukraine invasion

A Moscow newspaper reported that Russia had lost “no fewer than 2,000” dead in the fighting in Ukraine and another 3,200 serious casualties by February 1, 2015, a story that stayed up until Kremlin censors removed those lines from the article lest it call into question Vladimir Putin’s constant refrain that there are no Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine.

In an article about increased pay for Russian soldiers in 2015, Delovaya zhizn reported these numbers, but they didn’t remain on the site for every long, according to Konstantin Zelfanov of Novy Region-2 yesterday.

But the original uncensored article remained accessible in a cached version, and the key passage of that reads as follows, Zelfanov says. “The government of the Russian Federation has taken an important decision about the monetary compensation of military personnel who have taken part in military actions in the east of Ukraine.”

“For the families of those who have died in the course of military actions in the east of Ukraine, monetary compensation has been set at three million rubles [40,000 US dollars] and for those who have become invalids during the military actions at 1.5 million rubles [20,000 US dollars].”

Moscow had already paid monetary compensation “for more than 2,000 families of soldiers who had been killed

“In addition,” the original version said, Moscow plans to pay contract soldiers a supplement of 1,800 rubles [25 US dollars] for each day of combat. As of February 1, 2015, Moscow had already paid monetary compensation “for more than 2,000 families of soldiers who had been killed and for 3,200 soldiers who were seriously wounded and recognized as invalids.”

Given that six months of fighting have passed since that time, Russian losses, both killed and wounded, must now be much higher, although the Moscow authorities are doing everything they can, including censorship of this kind, to hide that fact lest Russians learn the tragic human costs they are paying for Putin’s aggression.

Russophobia doesn’t exist

Russophobia doesn’t exist, but fear and hatred of Putin’s regime does.

Vladimir Putin and his supporters have made the struggle against what they see as Russophobia a cornerstone of their ideology, Yevgeny Ikhlov says; but if one examines the characteristics they offer for this phenomenon, it is clear that Russophobia as such does not exist. At the same time, fear and hatred of Putin’s regime very much do.

The importance of this ideological theme to the Kremlin has been underscored, the Moscow commentator says, by the fact that immediately after Putin made his remarks about it, the World Russian Popular Assembly insisted that Russophobia included any attacks on the Russian Orthodox Church.

In defining the term, Ikhlov continues, the Russian Popular Assembly advanced five assertions regarding Russophobia, all of which he says are at the very least problematic. It asserts that the Russian people are being “subjected to Russophobia, they are the victims of genocide in Ukraine, they are a victim people, they are a divided people, and they have an identity which is being blurred.

Before considering each of these in turn, the commentator notes that the claim that an attack on the Orthodox Church is an attack on the Russian people is simply wrong. “Orthodoxy is not a church of the Russian people … moreover, it is not an exclusive attribute of ‘the Russian world.’” Asserting otherwise undermines “the very idea of the universality of Orthodoxy.”

The assertion that there is ethnic hatred toward Russians as such in the contemporary world is without foundation, Ikhlov says. The only place where one could speak about this would be in the Baltic countries, “but this is a manifestation of the most ordinary migrantophobia and diasporaphobia, which Russians also display.

Around the world, people recognize Russian culture as “a great world culture,” and Russians “have not encountered even that hostility which for long years surrounded Germans after the first and especially after the second world war.” Those who assert otherwise do not know what they are talking about.

The fact that there exists “fear and hostility to the Putin government” and that this is spreading and intensifying is quite another matter, Ikhlov says. A century ago, “every literate individual could clearly distinguish between the regime of Nicholas I and the Russian people and Russian intelligentsia.”

Thirty years ago, people found no difficulties in distinguishing bvetween the Russia of Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn and Russian communism. “And now,” Ikhlov says, they have no problem recognizing that the Russia of Boris Nemtsov is something entirely different than the Russia of Vladimir Putin.

Confusing or conflating “fear before the imperial policy of the Kremlin and the authoritarian mentality of the people with hostility toward Russians as an ethnos” is simply foolish nonsense, Ikhlov suggests.

The second plank in the attack on supposed Russophobia is that ethnic Russians are, it is said, being subjected to genocide in Ukraine.” There is no truth to that, and the word genocide should be used with care rather than tossed about whenever one wants to blacken opponents and play the victim.

Russians can claim to be victims, Ikhlov says; but most often and most seriously they have been victims of other Russians rather than of foreigners of one kind or another. But they are not a victim people in the sense that the Jews and Palestinians, Armenians and Tutsis are, and they should not claim otherwise.

Nor is it correct to label the Russians “a divided people,” as many of those now talking about Russophobia do. It is true that the collapse of the USSR in 1991 left many ethnic Russians beyond the borders of the Russian Federation, but “over the last quarter century much has changed” and the Russians in these countries are now “classical examples of a diaspora.”

Finally, Ikhlov argues, there is no evidence that Russian national identity is being blurred. “On the contrary, Russians very clearly set themselves apart from other ethnoses of the empire, having unwritten but in no way less obligatory criteria of what is required from a non-Russian to be recognized as a Russian,” even if various groups of Russians often fight about that.

Russia ‘de-Ukrainizing’ population of Crimea, occupation census shows

The number of people in Crimea identifying as ethnic Ukrainians has fallen by 232,000 between the 2001 census conducted by the Ukrainian government and the 2014 census conducted by the Russian occupation authorities, a decline that has reduced the percentage of ethnic Ukrainians on the peninsula from 24.0 to 15.1 percent.

That contributed both to a decline in the total population of Crimea from 2.4 million to 2.285 million over the same period and to an increase in the ethnic Russian share of the population from 60.4 to 65.3 percent as well, according to data presented by Andrey Illarionov.

In order to understand that these are not natural shifts but the result of what Illarionov calls “the catastrophic factor” of the Russian Anschluss, he presents data on the total numerical and annual percentage changes of these two ethnic groups for the preceding (1989-2001) inter-censal period and those of the most recent one (2001-2014).

In the earlier period, the number of ethnic Russians declined from 1.64 to 1.45 million with annual percentage declines of 1.0 percent while the number of ethnic Ukrainians fell from 626,000 to 457,000 with annual percentage declines of 0.7 percent. But in the latter one, Russians increased by 0.2 percent while Ukrainians fell by even more, 3.9 percent a year.

In the course of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, “the ethnic composition of the population of Crimea was subjected to significant changes, the Russian analyst continues, the most important of which during that period was “the demographic catastrophe which affected the Crimean Tatars.”

But “the main event of the beginning of the21st century has become the demographic catastrophe which has affected ethnic Ukrainians in Crimea,” when over the last 15 years they have lost 40 percent of their total and seen their share of the total population of the peninsula fall from 24 to 15 percent.

According to Illarionov, “one can with a high degree of certainty assert that the qualitative changes in the ethnic composition of the population of Crimea took place in the course of the seven or eight months preceded the last census,” that is, “between February 27 and October 14, 2014.”

“The reduction of the population of any ethnic group of such a size over such a short period of time typically is caused by political events of an extraordinary character,” he points out, “by wars, famine, deportation, mass emigration or genocide. With the exception of periods of the civil war and World War II, such rates of reduction in the numbers of the population of this or that demographic as were seen in Crimea in 2014 were not seen in the last century.”

“In this case,” Illarionov says, “the sharp decline in the number of Ukrainians in Crimea was called forth evidently both by the mass departure of Ukrainians from Crimea and the conscious change by some of them of their official ethnic self-identification.”

And to appreciate just how large those two factors are, he suggests, one could compare the number of ethnic Ukrainians in fact with the number of ethnic Ukrainians who would have been in Crimea at the end of 2014 if the same rates of change from the previous inter-censal period had continued.

If that had been the case, there would have been 524,000 ethnic Ukrainians in Crimea, not the 180,000 fewer that the Russian census takers recorded in October 2014. That difference, he concludes, is a useful and appalling measure of “the cost of the Putin adventure for the Ukrainians of Crimea.”

Ukrainians ‘called us occupiers,’ returning Russian insurgents tell media

Many commentators have speculated that Moscow faces a potentially serious problem when those who have gone to fight in Ukraine return to Russia with their anger and their military skills, the Kremlin may face a more immediate danger: those returning are undercutting Russian propaganda about what is happening in Ukraine.

Today, Yekaterinburg’s independent online news agency reported that “about 180” volunteers from the Urals returned from Ukraine today and are telling their families, friends and the media that “local people [in Ukraine] called us occupiers,” an epithet that calls into question Moscow’s messages.

The returnees were led by Vladimir Yefimov, the spetsnaz veteran who recruited them to go to Ukraine in the first place. When they left for Ukraine in March, they formed “the largest official local group of volunteers since the declaration of the armistice. Only half returned today; the rest continue to fight in the guard of the Donetsk People’s Republic.

“We worked in guard posts and went on patrol,” Yefimov said. “There were no serious battles,” only occasional shooting and provocations. But the weather in the Donbas was terrible and everyone suffered with the flu, heart problems and lung infections.

He added that he and his men “had become disappointed in the Donetsk People’s Republic to which they had gone initially because of its ‘duplicitous leadership’ and the attitudes of the local population.”

“According to Kyiv law, we are terrorists. According to a Madrid court, we are also terrorists. According to the law of the Luhansk Republic, persons who are not included on the lists of its armed forces are also members of illegal armed formations. And if one takes money for service there, then we become mercenaries” under Russian law, Yefimov said.

But it was the attitude of the local people in Luhansk, he said, that really repelled him. “They are clearly drawn to Ukraine. They pay taxes to it. And the local population in some places calls us occupiers. We simply lost the desire to work in this republic and transferred to the Donetsk People’s Republic” where the situation is “much better.”

Yefimov told the Yekaterinburg journalists that he had had to pay for the train tickets of his men back home because of a quarrel he had with his original sponsor: That individual objected to the fact that he had named him during a media interview despite the fact that he wanted to remain anonymous.

Despite all this, Yefimov said, he “plans to prepare a new group of volunteers” and has already found 40 who are ready to go. But his words about how the people of the Donbas really view “Russian volunteers” like himself are likely to have a bigger impact on future events than anything he or they might do in Donetsk.

Offensive Language: Putin began his verbal attack on Ukrainian statehood in 2004

Vladimir Putin stopped using the preposition “v” or “in” Ukraine in 2004, reverting to the older form “na” or “on,” in official government documents, an indication that the Kremlin leader did not view Ukraine as a country but rather as a Russian borderland, according to Andrey Illarionov.

Editor’s note: This is similar to the distinction in English between ‘Ukraine’ and ‘the Ukraine’ with the Russian “on Ukraine” being an archaism equivalent to ‘in the Ukraine’. See articles in TIME and Business Insider for more on the subject.

From the time he became president in 2000 through March 2004, Putin used the preposition “v” exclusively in official documents he signed, but beginning on April 5, 2004, he shifted to “na” and since Putin returned for his third term, such documents have used “na” exclusively.

In his own speeches, commentaries and responses to questions, Illarionov points out, Putin has gone from using “in” in 87.5 percent of the cases in 2002 to 70 percent in 2007 to 15.4 percent in 2012 to 8.2 percent last year, thus ever more often replacing it with the “on” and thus showing his lack of respect for Ukraine’s status as a state.

Since April 5, 2004, 99.4 percent of the official documents Putin has signed which refer to Ukraine have used “on” rather than “in.” Most of these 11 exceptions reflect either statements about the past or about the work of specific Russian officials of various kinds in Ukraine, he says.

“The last time the grammatical form ‘in Ukraine’ was used in official documents of the Kremlin was about five years ago on July 1, 2010,” concerning the presentation of an award to the head of ITAR-TASS in Ukraine. And that order was signed by then-President Dmitry Medvedev.

Since that time, “in” has not been used in the official documents of the Russian president and his administration even once. “In 2011-2015, 100 percent of the cases have used the form “na Ukraine,” Illarionov reports.

233176_600Graph 1: Use of “on Ukraine” (red) versus “in Ukraine” (green) in official Russian use, 1910-2008
Graph 2: Use of “in Ukraine” (blue) versus “in the Ukraine” (red) in English books, 1910-2008

This allows one to conclude, the Russian analyst says, that the decision to shift from “in” to “on” was taken “in the period between March 1 and April 5, 2004” – quite possibly immediately after Putin’s winning a second term as president and thus an indication of his intentions toward Kyiv at that time.

Certainly by April 16, 2004, Putin had made a decision to shift gears with regard to Ukraine. On that date, Illarionov recalls, Putin told the Ukrainian President Viktor Medvedchuk, “You know our position.” Working with Ukraine is “the top priority and the most important for us.”

“But however that was, the beginning of linguistic aggression by denying the statehood of Ukraine by the Russian authorities begins in March-April 2004,” Illarionov says. That was before the beginning of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in that year and long before July 2013 when Putin began his hybrid war against Ukraine.

“In other words,” Illarionov concludes, “the decision about the denial of the statehood of Ukraine was not provoked by any real actions of Ukrainians, be they from the Ukrainian authorities or Ukrainian society. This decision was taken by Putin personally, independent of the situation in Ukraine and as a result of his own ideas and in correspondence with his own plans.”

10 reasons why Ukraine’s Donbas is not and will not become a Northern Ireland

At a time when many commentators are seeking to explain what is going on in Ukraine by searching for analogies with other places and events, it is useful to be reminded of the limits of at least some of these comparisons as Bogdan Butkevich does in an article entitled 10 Reasons Why the Donbas will Not Become Ulster.

The Fourth Power analyst points out that “journalists and publicists, especially those who are pro-Russian, love to draw parallels between the war in the Donbas and the conflict in Ulster, thereby attempting to show that the war in Ukraine is a civil war,” but there is no factual basis for such claims.

The civil conflict in Northern Ireland lasted “more than 40 years” while the one in the Donbas was provoked by Moscow and is now directly supported by its troops, turning what the Russian side liked to claim was a “hybrid” conflict into “an ordinary war of conquest,” according to Butkevich.

That is obvious if one makes a serious comparison of the two, and he offers ten ways in which the two are very different:

1. The History of the Question.

The conflict in Northern Ireland has its roots in the English conquest of Ireland in the 12th century and the subsequent colonization of the northern countries by British people, almost all of whom were Protestants. The war in the Donbas is totally dissimilar. Until the mid-19th century, “this territory was practically empty.” It acquired importance because of industrial development, something that attracted people from throughout the Russian Empire and USSR regardless of ethnicity and who were mixed together once they got there. Indeed, the term “Donbas” is “more an economic than a political one,” let alone “a cultural or ethnic” description.

2. The Causes of the Conflict.

The struggle in Northern Ireland was between Catholics who wanted to join the Republic of Ireland and the Protestants who “by manipulating the law and using the support of London” were able to prevent that. The Catholics turned to terrorist actions, and the Protestants both responded directly and forced London to send troops to try to suppress the rising. The Donbas was and is different. A privileged economic zone in Soviet times, it has suffered economically since then. The oligarchs in the region and the pro-Moscow Party of the Regions used it to try to retain power in Kyiv. When that didn’t work, Moscow intervened.

3. The Typology of the Conflict.

“The conflict in Ulster is a civil war with internal causes and a logic of development,” Butkevich says.  “The war in the Donbas is in essence an invasion by Russian under the form of inciting a civil conflict.” But it is not a civil conflict in the sense that the one in Ulster is.

4. The Mentality of the Population.

“Irish Catholic, Protestant Englishmen and Protestant Irishmen are a settled population in Ulster.” Their views have been fixed by centuries of historical experience; they are not subject to radical and rapid change.  The majority of the people of the Donbas have been there no more than two or three generations; they are typical of “new arrivals” in that they have not formed specific “traditions, views and worldviews” and are more subject to the influence of propaganda.

5. The Religious Issue.

The divide between Catholics and Protestants forms the basis for the divisions in Northern Ireland.  There is no such divide in the Donbas, despite efforts by Russian propagandists to spark one.

6. The Nationality Question.

In Ulster, this is the key division, but in the Donbas, it isn’t. Ukrainians and Russians “are fighting on both sides,” and “the chief role in the conflict is played not by nationality but by worldview factors,” with those supporting a liberal democratic order being for Ukraine and those supporting “national conservatism” backing Russia.

7. Foreign Interference.

Although the IRA received some support from abroad, “the conflict was entirely internal. But in the Donbas, “from the very beginning, Russia took the most immediate part in exacerbating it” and finally “introduced regular units of the Russian army,” making the conflict into an ordinary war of conquest.

8. Type of Military Actions.

“The Ulster conflict is a classical example of terrorist guerilla war, that is, of war in the city, primarily by means of the conduct of terrorist actions. “The conflict in the Donbas as a result of Russia’s efforts very quickly grew over into a full-scale war with regular military units involved.

9. Weapons and Tactics.

In Ulster, the basic weapons were personal arms and explosive used to carry out terrorist attacks; in the Donbas, the main weapons are heavy artillery and tanks used to carry out aggression or defense against it.

10. The Number of Victims.

Over almost 40 years of conflict in Northern Ireland, an estimated 3,000 to 8,000 people were killed or less than 250 per year on average at most. In the Donbas, the number of killed is more than 5,000 and may be as much as 10,000 – and that in one year, not 40.


Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Nearly half of Russians say Stalin’s harsh rule justified, up from 25% in 2012

Forty-five percent of Russians now say that Stalin’s harsh repression was justified by the results he achieved as a result, a figure that is almost twice as high as in 2012, according to a new Levada Center poll. The same survey found that the share of Russians who believe that nothing justifies what Stalin did has fallen significantly.

As a result, only one Russian in four (25 percent) is either fully or partially opposed to the erection of statues and memorials to the Soviet-era dictator on the occasion of what Moscow will mark in May as the 70th anniversary of victory in World War II.

“since the last decade there has been a growth in the share of those Russians who give a positive assessment to what Stalin did”

Aleksey Grazhdankin, the Levada Center’s deputy director, says that “for the majority of respondents, the name of Stalin as before is connected with terror, but since the last decade there has been a growth in the share of those Russians who give a positive assessment to what Stalin did. It reached its highest level ever last year, he adds.

Part of the explanation for the increase in approval for Stalin, Grazhdankin suggests, is to be found in Russians’ assessment of the events in Ukraine. Seeing what instability can lead to, he says, many Russians are now “prepared to sacrifice the interests of a minority in order to preserve the current status quo and stability.”

Five years ago, 32 percent of the Russian sample said that Stalin was a criminal; now, only 25 percent do, and 57 percent say they oppose designating him as one. It isn’t that Russians love him, the Levada Center sociologist says. Rather, they see virtues in a strong leader when as they now think is the case their country is surrounded by enemies.

Stalin is most positively viewed by the least educated, those living in villages and small cities and the elderly

Not surprisingly, Stalin is most positively viewed by the least educated, those living in villages and small cities and the elderly. Young people are largely indifferent to him, while the most antagonistic to Stalin are the middle-aged and the relatively well-off populations of the large cities, such as Muscovites.

Stalin remains a divisive force for many, Ivan Nikitchuk, a KPRF Duma deputy who wants to rename Volgograd Stalingrad, an idea that the Levada Center poll found is supported by 31 percent of its sample, says that when Russians compare their situation now with what it was under Stalin, they draw the “correct” conclusion that it was better then than now.

Nikolay Svanidze, a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, in contrast, says that “the moral rehabilitation of Stalin which will intensify in advance of Victory Day would be a personal insult for millions of people.”

And Yabloko Party leader Sergey Mitrokhin says that the revival of support for Stalin reflects the failure of the country to undergo any “de-Stalinization” during the first two post-Soviet decades and consequently the Soviet dictator remains “an instrument” for some to resolve political tasks such as promoting a cult of a new leader, in the present case, Vladimir Putin.

Russians’ hatred easy to unleash but difficult to limit, reverse or overcome

Many are taking comfort in the notion that just as Russians appear to have reduced their hatred of immigrants when encouraged by the Kremlin to hate Ukrainians instead so too their hatred against the latter could be ended relatively easily if Moscow changed course — and in any case won’t expand to include others.

But in fact, as a panel discussion organized by Radio Liberty points out, there are two problems with the optimistic vision. On the one hand, it ignores that there was a reservoir of hatred among many Russians ready to be whipped up by the government for its own purposes. Moscow did not create it; it exploited it.

And on the other hand, such a view also downplays the danger that while Moscow may be able to exploit such hatreds, it could quickly lose control over them and not be able either to restrain them once they are unleashed or to prevent them from being extended to other groups that the regime either wants to protect or does not want to offend.

Indeed, to deal with this situation, the panel suggested, the regime will either have to offer new objects of hatred in the hopes of diverting Russians from one enemy to another or employ massive amounts of repression in order to limit the expression of that hatred. In either case, the problems involved with such feelings and their use are not limited or short term.

Thus, for example, any lessening of official anti-Ukrainian hysteria in the absence of any new target group almost immediately threatens to provoke new outburst of hostility toward migrants or toward other groups, including Chinese workers and industrialists in the Russian Far East whom Moscow has every reason to protect lest it offend Beijing.

(Indeed, that issue is so sensitive that the authorities have taken down an entire website after it featured an article showing that xenophobic attitudes and actions against the Chinese are on the rise there.)

Consequently, thanks to Putin’s actions in unleashing and exacerbating Russian hatreds in the current crisis, Russia and the world are entering a Martin Niemöller moment, one in which just because they hate someone else now, there are no guarantees that they will not hate others, including ourselves, later.

Border disputes spreading and intensifying in Eastern Europe, Moscow scholar says

The announcement three weeks ago that Prague is prepared to transfer 360 hectares of territory to Poland in the Těšín Silesia area is the latest indication that the border changes in the former Soviet and Yugoslav spaces are sparking new questions about borders in the northern portion of Eastern Europe, according to Aleksey Fenenko.

On March 6, the Moscow State University international relations specialist notes in an article in NG-Dipkuryer, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Subotka announced the transfer, something he said would end a territorial dispute between the two countries that has been going on since 1958.

Because Subotka provided no additional details and because the amount of land involved was so small, his words attracted relatively little attention. But Fenenko argues that border disputes are endemic in the region and that “the wave of de-Stalinization” at the end of the 20th century “has led to the de-legitimization of the borders of the 1940s.”

That is because, he continues, “for public opinion of these countries, references to the fact that the borders were established by ‘Stalin’s USSR’ is sufficient to recognize their illegitimacy.” The EU has been able to quiet “but not stop the process of their review.” And after the Těšín Silesia case, “the process is starting to take on a practical character.”

“Up to the present,” Fenenko says, “border changes have taken place in the Balkans and the territory of the former USSR. In Central Europe, on the contrary, the borders of the 1940s have been preserved.” He suggests that “the disintegration of Czechoslovakia … did not change the situation since it occurred quickly along administrative borders within the country.”

Now, however, “the situation is changing,” the Moscow specialist says, as the Těšín Silesia shows. Warsaw and Prague, under pressure from the Entente agreed to the border in 1920. But both sides had problems with it, and immediately after Munich in 1938, Poland demanded and got a border adjustment in its favor.

In 1947, following the Soviet occupation of the entire area, Poland and Czechoslovakia signed an accord that largely restored the 1920 border; but Poland later tried to make greater changes, something Czechoslovakia rejected. In any case, the small adjustment announced now highlights the reality that “Poland and the Czech Republic have a problem” with borders.

The 1938 Munich agreement between Hitler and Chamberlain is “traditionally viewed in Europe exclusively in a negative way.” Any reference to it, including by Moscow, Fenenko says, represents a kind of “’red line’” that must not be crossed. But Prague’s action this month has the effect of implicitly and partially rehabilitating of part of Munich.

Disputes

Could this prompt other countries in Central Europe, and especially Hungary, to raise similar issues, Fenenko asks. The answer is far from clear. Germany isn’t going to question its borders: the current ones are too much part of that country’s self-definition. But the situation with regard to Lithuania may be different.

The current Polish-Lithuanian border follows a line established by the Soviet-Polish treaty of August 16, 1945, but “problems of the border delimitation between Poland and Lithuania remain,” the Moscow scholar says, with each side having claims to portions now within the borders of the other.

On the one hand, many in Lithuania consider portions of Poland and Russia’s Kaliningrad oblast to be part of Little Lithuania. And many Poles still remember when Vilnius was within Poland, not Lithuania. As a result, Fenenko says, “Warsaw could activate discussions about the principles of the delimitation” of the border.

There is also the possibility of disputes between Poland and Ukraine. According to the 1945 Soviet-Polish treaty, Poland gave up territories to the Ukrainian SSR;” and “officially, Warsaw has refrained from advancing demands on Ukraine.” But that doesn’t end Ukraine’s western border problems: it also has them with Moldova.

The most serious set of border issues involve Hungary and Hungarians. After 1945, some of Hungary’s lands were handed over to Romania, others to Yugoslavia, still others to Czechoslovakia and the USSR. In 1991, Budapest began talking about the formation of “a Greater Hungary” that would reunite all of these.

The US blocked that at the time by promising Hungary eventual NATO membership if it refrained. But, Fenenko points out, “over the last few years,” discussions of this kind in Budapest have “intensified.” Budapest now has problems with Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine, problems it has exacerbated by demanding autonomy and offering dual citizenship to ethnic Hungarians.

Now, given “the precedent of the Polish-Czech negotiations,” the Moscow specialist continues, “Budapest in the future may achieve the establishment of a negotiation framework with Ukraine about the provision of particular rights to Hungarians” in that country.

Conclusions

Fenenko’s article is important for three reasons: First, it is clearly an effort to set the stage for Russian demands for border changes by suggesting that this is not a “Moscow problem.” Second, it suggests that some in the Russian capital are interested in promoting such conflicts as a way of expanding Moscow’s influence over the region.

And third, it is a reminder that the West, having failed to stop Russia’s “territorial” adjustments in Georgia in 2008 or in Ukraine in 2014, has opened the door not only to Vladimir Putin but to other leaders around the world who may decide that the era of fixed borders is over and that they have everything to gain by seeking to expand their own.