HISTORY (AGAIN). We are seeing a spate of tendentious pieces trying to make out that “Russia’s traumatic history is being rewritten on a massive scale to rehabilitate Stalin”, to quote a recent example of the genre. They are usually based on misreports about a textbook (actually a teachers’ guide), Contemporary History of Russia 1945-2006: Book for Teachers. There is every indication that none of the writers has actually looked at the book itself. What the book is actually trying to do is not “rehabilitate” Stalin but create the background for a classroom discussion: “For some, he is the hero and orchestrator of Victory in the Great Patriotic War; to others, he is the embodiment of evil itself.” It quotes Winston Churchill (“Stalin came to Russia with a wooden plough and left in it possession of nuclear weapons”) and Antonov-Ovseyenko (“bloody tyrant”). On the one hand; on the other. It concludes: “On the one side, he is regarded as the most successful Soviet leader… But Stalin’s rule had another side… the ruthless exploitation of the population.” But don’t take my word for it: read it yourself (Eng Russ). And, which these writers will never tell you, the Education Ministry has just decreed that sections of the GULag Archipelago will become compulsory, joining One Day in the Life…. This attempt at balance, however poorly it may be done, is better than the wholesale airbrushing that is common in other countries. The past is not just a Russian problem: these pieces never tell you about all the Lenin statues still standing in Kiev; to do so would destroy the simple story they are trying to sell you.
MEDVEDEV’S LATEST. He is setting himself up as grand strategist and chief moraliser. His latest, on the question: “Should a primitive economy based on raw materials and endemic corruption accompany us into the future?” Worth reading as a guide to what he is trying to do.
NORTH CAUCASUS. A better week for the authorities with several “militants” killed, including a major fighter who, they say, was the mastermind of the assassination attempt on Ingush Republic President Yevkurov. A Russian newspaper says that the authorities prevented two suicide terror attacks on Moscow itself this week.
GAS WARS. Tymoshenko says there are “no conflicts” between Russia and Ukraine over gas supplies or storage. Typically, Yushchenko’s side disagrees. But Yushchenko is now a very lame duck indeed.
MOLDOVA. The newly-elected speaker of the Moldovan parliament, Mihai Ghimpu, has been, in the past at least, an advocate of Moldova’s dissolving its existence and becoming part of Romania. He denies he still intends this but it is a dangerous subject to be raised at all. The Moldavian SSR was created by Stalin in two steps: first he created, out of a piece of the Ukrainian SSR, the Moldavian ASSR and then, when he acquired territory from Romania, the Moldavian SSR was created out of most of these former bits of Romania and most of the former Moldavian ASSR. And a Moldavian ethnos was invented to make all this fit with the Soviet nationality theory. It was this territory that is today’s Moldova. When the USSR broke up, many in Moldova believed that they were really Romanians and sought to merge into Romania. The inhabitants of the former Moldavian ASSR, about two-thirds of them Ukrainians or Russians, did not want to be so submerged into a foreign body and the wars broke out and, as a result, the Transdnestr Republic appeared. In short, talk of joining Romania was the casus belli. Transdnestr is recognised by no one and the issue remains unsettled – although the proposal on the table would allow a referendum in Transdnestr should Moldova decide to become part of Romania. This is therefore potentially a dangerous thing to mention. And why raise it now? Perhaps because Moldova is said to be one of the poorest countries in Europe and merger with Romania is one solution to the problem.
TURKISH CAPTAIN. Tbilisi has reconsidered; after a visit by the Turkish Foreign Minister, the 24-year sentence of the Turkish captain of the ship trading with Abkhazia has reduced and he freed.
SOUTH OSSETIA WAR. Three weeks ago Russian prosecutors said they had discovered evidence that “Ukraine’s regular Defence Ministry units and at least 200 members of the UNA-UNSO nationalist organisation” had participated in the war. There are two components to the assertion: forces that Kiev controls and forces that it does not. Ukraine President Yushchenko has strongly denied the involvement of the former. Some of the purported evidence of the latter is here but I have seen no evidence for the participation of regular forces. Although, given the large supply of weapons from Ukraine, there may have been Ukrainian troops somewhere in Georgia when the war began. But that’s not quite the same thing.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)