Sunday, February 18, 2018

St. Petersburg Trying to Convert a Defeat into Victory by Commemorating Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 18 – Officials in St. Petersburg are staging a three-day festival to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989 and seeking to portray what was an obvious defeat into a glorious victory, an insult to history and the memory of those who fought there, Sergey Taranov.

            In a Novyye izvestiya commentary, Taranov, who 30 years ago served as an Izvestiya correspondent attached to Soviet forces in Afghanistan, denounces what he calls “Afghan amnesia” and the celebration of “a shameful anniversary” (

                Not only did the Soviet invasion fail to achieve its goals and cost far more lives than anyone has admitted, the journalist continues, but its result has been “horrific: unending wars continue in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and In Syria. And who knows, [had the Soviets not invaded Afghanistan] there wouldn’t have an Al Qaeda, ISIS, September 11, or the deaths in Syria.”

            Moreover, Taranov continues, “the USSR itself disintegrated to a great extent as a result of the excessive spending on the Afghan war, the sanctions the West imposed, the alienation of Soviet citizens to an unnecessary and foolish war which was shamefully called their ‘international duty.’” 

            Given all that, one would think that no one could look at the Afghan war without a sense of shame and even anger. Certainly, one would not think, Taranov says, that anyone could try to “convert a tragedy into a victory-like farce.”  But that is just what officials in the northern capital’s Committee on Youth are doing.

            There is a way to mark such wars, he continues. The US has shown the way. Each year on April 30, that country has a Day of Veterans of the Vietnam War in which the US lost almost 60,000 soldiers and suffered a major defeat. But the Americans don’t lie about it: they treat the day as a day of regret for what happened.

Unlike the Russians, the Americans don’t try to make a defeat into a victory by lying.

Taranov does not draw the obvious connection between the way in which Moscow now wants to treat the Afghan war and currently treats its involvement in Syria; but few of his readers will fail to see the parallels – and at least some of them may become as angry as the journalist clearly is with such shameful playing with the truth. 

Russian Demographic Collapse Driving Ethnic Shifts in Non-Russian Republics

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 18 – For most of the last three decades of the 20th century, the share of non-Russians in the population of most non-Russian republics of the Russian Federation increased because the non-Russians had significantly higher fertility rates than did the ethnic Russians living among them.

            Now, fertility rates among most non-Russians have fallen in some cases approaching that of the ethnic Russians, a development some scholars in Moscow assumed would mean that the ethnic balance in these republics would stabilize rather than the share of non-Russians continuing to increase relative to the ethnic Russians there.

            But that has not happened, for two reasons. On the one hand, the age structure of the population favors the non-Russians who have a greater share of their number in the prime child-bearing age groups than do the Russians and so give birth to more children even when their fertility rate is similar because the age structure of the ethnic Russians is tilted to older groups.

            And on the other hand, ethnic Russians continue to leave these republics going to or in many cases back to predominantly Russian areas while members of the titular nationality return from other parts of the former Soviet Union, often in large but seldom much ballyhooed numbers.

            Obviously, there are variations; but in an article today on the Kavkazr portal, Alan Gagloyev describes how “the number of the ethnic Russians in North Ossetia is contracting” because “Russians are leaving and dying” and the share of Ossetians is increasing because they’re coming back  (

            Between 1979 and 2010, the number of Russians in North Ossetia fell by 53,000, from 200,000 to 147,000 and in percentage terms from 34 percent to 21 percent; and experts say there is every reason to expect that to continue because an extraordinarily high percentage of those remaining – some 21 percent – are over the age of 60.
            Younger ethnic Russians are trying to leave, specialists in North Ossetia say because unemployment is high, pay is low and also most positions are handed out on the basis of nepotism, something few Russians can take advantage of there. Young North Ossetians are leaving as well, some 47,000 in the last 12 years alone.

            Meanwhile, however, the number and share of Ossetians in North Ossetia has continued to climb from 299,000 (50 percent of the population) in 1979 to 460,000 (65 percent of the population) in 2010, not so much because of more births but because of the return of large groups of Ossetians from abroad.

            An estimate 86,000 have come from the Republic of Georgia. (There were 100,000 Ossetians in Georgia in 1989; now there are only 14,000.)  Smaller numbers have returned from other parts of the North Caucasus as well as from further afield.

            But these changes in the Ossetian population have not been driven by higher birthrates. Indeed, local demographers are concerned that the birthrate in the republic is too low.  In 1926, Ossetia ranked second in the USSR in terms of the number of children in each family; today, local demographers say, it ranks 53rd on that measure.

Syrian Debacle ‘Greatest Shame of the Entire Putin Regime,’ Satarov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 18 – Although many details are unknown or subject to intense dispute, Georgy Satarov says, it is already obvious that what took place in Syria on the night of February 7-8 represents “the greatest shame of the Putin regime for all of the 18 years it has been in power.”

            There are currently two “main questions” that Russians must face: how many victims were there among Russian citizens and what kind of status did these Russians have, according to the president of the INDEM Foundation. As everyone knows, there is an active dispute about the first (

                Regarding the second, Satarov says, “there are two versions.” The first is that the Russian citizens involved were mercenaries, and the second is that they were members of some branch of the Russian special forces operating under cover as mercenaries.  In terms of shame, of course, there is no real difference.

            In neither case can the Russian government escape blame and in neither were these forces engaged in the supposed “struggle with terrorism” or providing “help to the fraternal Syrian people. In both cases, the authorities betrayed their own citizens and betrayed them in an unprecedented manner.”

            According to Satarov, the number of Russian citizens killed is certainly higher than any Russian official will say, possibly in “the hundreds” because if it were otherwise the US military would now have been so restrained in its reporting.  Its “silence,” he says, “is part of an informal collusion with Russian military and others … who assert that these were non-combatants.”

            In Russia meanwhile, Satarov continues, “some are silent but others are lying for an understandable reason. Truth could destabilize the situation not only in Russia but lead to a gigantic military catastrophe. Now a nervous Putin controls the nuclear button.” And how he might react if he were compelled to face the truth “is unknown even to the Most High.”

            “Therefore,” the Moscow analyst says, “you and I must pray for the silence of the one group and the lying of the other. The time for a trial of the liars and thieves has still not come. One must be patience.  And one would not want that a nuclear war interfere with this inevitable tribunal.”

            Satarov concludes with the following remark about shame: “This is not our shame. We did not select them, we did not authorize anyone to begin a war beyond the borders of Russia or send [mercenaries or troops] there.  This is the shame” of those who made those decisions, a shame that reflects their moral bankruptcy.”

            “Our shame,” the Moscow commentator says, is elsewhere: it is that those people are “still in power.”