Friday, August 16, 2013

Blackout Points to Kaliningrad’s Future in Europe

By Matthew Czekaj

At approximately 9:05 p.m., on August 8, the lights went out across Kaliningrad, the largest city in the Russian exclave region of the same name. The power outage was caused by a malfunctioning high-voltage power line leading from the Kaliningrad-2 combined heat-and-power plant, and it affected 30 percent of the region’s residents. That blackout did not last long, however. Within about 45 minutes, electricity flowed into Kaliningrad from neighboring Lithuania (Interfax, August 13).

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich drew some specific conclusions from this incident. In particular, on August 12, he argued that to secure Kaliningrad’s energy grid from future outages such as this, the Russian exclave needs to be connected to what he referred to as the “Baltic-Russia-Belarus energy ring”—an interconnected system of grids and electricity substations, which would more closely tie the power grids of the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to the grids of Russia and neighboring Belarus (Interfax, August 13). Yet, Deputy Prime Minister Dvorkovich’s suggestion appears to entirely disregard the long-term trends currently driving energy policy in Europe.

Due to the legacy of the Baltic States’ former inclusion in the Soviet Union, the electricity grids and energy infrastructure of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are almost exclusively tied to Russia and the former Soviet Union. This leaves the Baltics vulnerable to politically motivated disruptions in the power flow, which Russia has repeatedly employed in an effort to alter these countries’ domestic policies. During 1998–1999, for example, Russia cut oil shipments to Lithuania nine different times in an effort to pressure Vilnius into selling its pipelines, oil refinery and port terminal to the Kremlin-connected LUKOIL. This reality, combined with the lack of energy inter-connectors to the rest of the European Union has led to the Baltic States being referred to as an “energy island.” However, Brussels has pledged to resolve this geopolitical vulnerability.

On June 17, 2009, with the backing of the European Commission, eight EU Baltic littoral states—the Baltic States, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Poland—signed a memorandum of understanding on the Baltic Energy Market Interconnection Plan (BEMIP), which lays out concrete measures to connect the Baltics to the rest of the EU’s energy networks. Inter alia, the plan envisions building a so-called “Baltic ring” network, which will create electricity links between the Baltic States, Central Europe and the Nordic countries. Mindful of the need for this large-scale project to succeed, the European Commission is pressuring Russia and the Baltic States to reach an agreement by 2013 whereby the Baltics’ electricity grids will be de-synchronized from the Unified Power System electricity grid, which encompasses the Russian Federation and most other former Soviet republics. Synchronizing the Baltic States’ electricity grid frequency with Continental Europe’s ENTSO-E grid instead is an important first step to connecting the Baltic “energy island” with the rest of the EU.

Assuming that Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn maintain their current policy course toward greater integration with Europe in the energy sphere, Moscow will have a difficult time trying to tie their power grids ever more closely with Kaliningrad’s. Dvorkovich’s insights about the implications of the August 8 blackout were just the opposite of reality. Indeed, disconnected from the rest of Russia and nestled between two EU member states, Kaliningrad is more likely to achieve security in its power grid by becoming more like its European neighbors than for its neighbors to move closer to the Russian Federation.

Kaliningrad, with its recent history as the East Prussian city of Konigsberg and geographic location as an enclave within the EU, is arguably more suited to closer relations with Europe than any other Russian area.  As early as January 2001, then-German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder actually floated the idea of an association agreement [link is a PDF] between the EU and Kaliningrad, and, that same month, the European Commission presented EU heads of state with a document entitled “The EU and Kaliningrad,” which pushed themes of “cooperation,” “collaboration,” “intensification” and “development.” EU bureaucrats would even admit off-the-record that their goal was to turn Kaliningrad into a “European Hong Kong”—officially a part of Russia, but with a separate international status, presumably molding the enclave’s internal economic-political system to be more in line with European norms. These overtures predictably went nowhere, as Russia feared losing its grip on this geostrategically important territory, which it keeps highly militarized.

Nevertheless, by July 2012, Kaliningrad did, in fact, become differentiated from the rest of the Russian Federation by the institution of visa-free small-border travel [link in Polish] between this exclave and nearby regions within Poland. The mutual easing of travel restrictions applies to all residents of the Polish voivodeships (provinces) of Pomerania and Warminsko-Mazury and the Kaliningrad region who have lived there for at least two years. This visa-free travel will likely add to the Russian exclave’s conscious awareness of the inherent social, political and economic differences that exist between Russia and the European Union.

Anger over such disparities has already erupted into political turmoil within Kaliningrad before. Notably, in early 2010, Kaliningrad residents took to the streets in the largest protests since the end of the Soviet Union until that time. The demonstrators—10,000 to 12,000 individuals—called for the resignation of the region’s governor and chanted slogans against the ruling United Russia Party. The Guardian (February 2, 2010) quoted opposition leader and independent deputy Solomon Ginzburg as saying: “Unlike most Russians, we can compare living conditions here with those in Poland and Lithuania,” He added, “[Kaliningrad Governor Georgy] Boos promised us the same standards as the EU. It turned out he was lying.” The 2010 protests should not be interpreted as a sign that Kaliningrad is likely to break away from Russia or demand full EU membership anytime soon. But they do point to the fact that at least a portion of the exclave’s population realizes its own prosperity will be more assured if it opens up more to the rest of Europe.

And contrary to Deputy Prime Minister Dvorkovich’s arguments, the same will hold true regarding Kaliningrad’s energy situation. As the EU works to eliminate the Baltic States “energy island,” Kaliningrad will find itself as its own island within a European continental electricity grid. The best solution then may be for this Russian region to become more European itself.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Possible Consequences of the Matveyevskoye Market Affair

By Richard Arnold

On July 27, Moscow police clashed with Dagestani traders in the market near Moscow’s Matveyevskoye district. After a scuffle that ended with one police officer dead, the Moscow police launched a crackdown on migrant traders across the city, with 1,000 migrants rounded up for deportation. Competing accounts exist of the reasons for police involvement, inevitably casting the police as the heroes or the villains of the drama (see EDM, August 5), but the implications for the political situation in the country are perhaps the most concerning.

Most immediately, the principal candidates for the position of mayor of the Russian metropolis appear to be competing for the nationalist vote. Alexei Navalny’s association with the far-right “Russkie” faction of the protestors against President Vladimir Putin—including skinhead Dmitry Demushkin and the extremist Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) leader Alexander Belov—is well known, and Navalny has made specific pledges to crack down on illegal migration in his political manifesto ( The establishment candidate, incumbent Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, has also been keen to play on the emotions of the situation, visiting the hospital of an officer wounded in the initial raid and reminding the public of the 30 markets he had already closed ( While politically organized nationalist formations may have already decided to support Navalny, Sobyanin is still courting the votes of ordinary Russians who support xenophobic ideas—the 56 percent who agree with the slogan “Russian for [ethnic] Russians” ( Aside from the decline in political rhetoric that will result from such a courting of the nationalist base, there is the danger of what political scientist Donald Horowitz described as a “race to the bottom” in his 1985 book “Ethnic Groups in Conflict.” Horowitz theorized that when politicians from rival ethnic groups compete in elections, they stir up ethnic conflict by competing with each other to demonize the other group as an electoral strategy. One could argue that the Moscow mayoral race is even more likely to end in bloodshed as two politicians are competing with each other to gain the support of the majority by attacking the same unpopular minority.

Even if such a scenario were to come to pass, however, on its own it would be unlikely to have much lasting effect on political stability. Far more damaging will be the increased polarization of ethnic identity within what the 1993 constitution defines as a “civic” nation. Signs already point to such a polarization happening. First, the newly-appointed head of Dagestan Ramazan Abdulatipov spoke out in defense of the Moscow market traders in a similar manner to how Ramzan Kadyrov has appointed himself spokesman of all Chechens in the Russian Federation ( Second, the owners of a local bar in Moscow belonging to ethnic groups indigenous to Dagestan offered to pay for legal assistance to an arrested trader ( As the Russian state is fighting an insurgency in the North Caucasus—a point emphasized by two explosions on August 4 and 5 ( in the capital of Dagestan, Makhachkala—it does not need to alienate the population any further, but should instead be trying to win the battle of “hearts and minds.”

Of course, there are many possible ramifications of the recent events in Moscow, not all of them as dark as those sketched above. Yet, the volatility of relations between Russians and ethnic groups from the North Caucasus is an unfortunate fact the authorities will want to keep quiet, especially with the 2014 Winter Olympics scheduled to be held in the southern Russian resort city of Sochi. The eyes of the world will be on the country in February, a point not missed by Doku Umarov, the leader of the insurgency movement, who called on his followers to prevent the Olympics from going ahead ( With time running out until Russia hosts this international sporting event, any increase in tensions between Russians and the ethnic groups indigenous to the North Caucasus should alarm not just the Russian government but also the International Olympic Committee. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Afghanistan Will Become a Threat to Central Asia and Russia after US Leaves, Kazan Expert Says

By Paul Goble

After the United States withdraws from Afghanistan in 2014, the Taliban is likely to return to power and become a base for radical Islamists just as that country was between 1996 and 2001, according to a Kazan-based specialist on Islamic movements. And, he argues, those radicals will threaten the countries of Central Asia in the first instance and Muslim regions of the Russian Federation as well.

Rais Suleymanov, head of the Volga Center for Regional and Ethno-Religious Research of the Russian Institute for Strategic Research, said that the Afghan regime of Hamid Karzai will fall to the Taliban just as the government of Mohammad Najibullah did in 1996. And just as in the earlier case, the new rulers of Afghanistan, the Taliban, will become a base for Islamist radicals from both the neighboring countries of Central Asia and from Russia (

Indeed, Suleymanov suggests the situation may be even worse for the post-Soviet region than it was in 1996. After 2014, the new rulers of Afghanistan will have particular reason to “take revenge” against those Central Asian countries that helped the United States and thus redouble their efforts to export “an Islamist revolution.” they may have some success because “the presidents of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are all the age of pensioners.”  Moreover, because so many Central Asian guest workers are likely to come to the Russian Federation, they will carry this Taliban bacillus with them.

Moreover, Suleymanov suggests, there will be a renewed flow of Muslim radicals from the North Caucasus and the Middle Volga to Afghanistan for additional ideological and military training.  Such flows started in the early 1990s, grew exponentially between 1996 and 2001, but have declined to a trickle since the US intervention, he argues.  If they increase again after 2014, and there is every reason to think they will, the governments of the Central Asian countries and of the Russian Federation itself will have to come up with new and more effective strategies to protect themselves.

Of course, Suleymanov admits, the post-2014 situation will not be entirely new. After 2001, many Muslim radicals from Central Asia and Russia continued to go to bases in northern Pakistan. But fewer of them made that trip, and fewer of those who did returned to their national homelands because of the extraordinary difficulties of passing through war-torn Afghanistan.  If that ceases to be an obstacle, there is little question that the backward flow of Central Asian Islamists from the south will be far greater than any seen in the past.

Suleymanov’s argument is both logical and persuasive, but it is important to remember why he is making it just now.  His words are clearly intended to lead Central Asian leaders to conclude that they must make common cause with Moscow in order to keep themselves in power—or at the very least to suggest to them that the Americans are fair weather friends who will soon be gone and thus not have to help the Central Asian elites.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Russian Police Admits North Caucasian Rebels Finance Themselves

By Valery Dzutsev

On July 31, the head of the Department for Combating Extremism of the Russian Ministry of the Interior in the North Caucasus, Colonel Said-Khussein Shamsatov, made a surprising statement during an online conference. Answering question about sources of support of the insurgency in the North Caucasus, the security official said: “I can say that some time ago, the bulk of the financing of the illegal armed groups came from abroad. The current information we have allows us to say with certainty that in the last years the bandit underground shifted to self-financing.” Even though the official still mentioned “foreign masters of the insurgency that did not stop paying for instability in the North Caucasus,” the police chief said that the primary financial sources of the insurgency came from racket, theft, robberies and voluntary donations by sympathizers (

This statement is a significant departure from the longtime official view that all trouble in the North Caucasus is caused by hostile foreign forces. Many Russian analysts pointed out that the government’s refusal to admit the existence of internal sources of conflict prevented it from resolving the pressing security issues of the region.

As an illustration for the security official’s statement on August 1, the Kommersant newspaper reported that Russian security services arrested two people in Moscow on suspicion of racketeering and sending the money to insurgents in the North Caucasus. Reportedly, Salim Khajiev, with his origins from Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Alexander Osipov, a resident of Krasnodar, extorted over $4 million from a businessman in the city of Krasnodar in January 2013 (

The police’s admission belatedly casts the North Caucasian insurgency as a homegrown phenomenon. Apart from undermining the Russian propaganda tool about mysterious “foreign adversaries,” the latest statement implies that the insurgents receive significant voluntary support from the regional population. Indeed, it would be hard to imagine that insurgents could survive for any significant amount of time by simply robbing and stealing. The high level of reliance on the civilian population also limits the rebels’ attacks against civilians in their respective territories, but does not preclude rebels from attacking civilians that are not among their support base.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Far Fewer Chechens to Make the Haj This Year

By Paul Goble

Far fewer Chechens are scheduled to make the haj this year, owing to a cutback in haj slots allotted to the Russian Federation by Saudi Arabia, the cancellation of land transportation to the holy places because of instability in the Middle East, rising prices for the now necessary air travel, and a decline in the number of hajis whose costs are covered by private foundations. But the actual number of Chechen hajis may not decline as much as feared because at least some Chechens are likely to make the haj not from their home republic but from other parts of the Russian Federation where local believers are not able to fulfill the local quotas.

Every year, the Saudi authorities allocate haj slots country by country on the basis of a formula of one haji for every 1,000 Muslims. For more than a decade, the Russian Federation has had a quota of 20,500, although Russian hajis have busted this figure almost every year by travelling independently or going through third countries. In 2011, for example, some 40,000 hajis are estimated to have come to Mecca from the Russian Federation. But this year because of reconstruction of haj facilities, the Saudis cut back the Russian figure by 20 percent, and that translated into a reduction for Chechnya from 3,600 to 2,800 (

The actual number may be different, however. On the one hand, Chechen hajis will be compelled to fly because of problems in Syria and elsewhere rather than take the bus as in the past, with flights costing $4,000 to $5,000—vastly more than the bus. That may push the number down as will a projected decline in the number of haji slots paid for by private foundations. Indeed, the latter factor pushed the recorded number of hajis from Chechnya down to 3,150 last year, although the actual number, if one includes people travelling independently rather than as a group, was likely somewhat higher.

But on the other, at least some Chechens are likely to move to parts of the Russian Federation such as the Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous Republic, which have typically failed to fill their quotas, and apply to make their pilgrimage from there. According to the Russian Haj Committee, a joint government-religious body, Moscow is supposed to reallocate haj slots to regions where demand is greater, but in fact, this seldom happens in a timely manner. Given rising ethnic tensions in the Russian Federation, however, Moscow has better reasons than ever before to make the system work as intended.

This decline in the number of hajis from Russia has at least three consequences. First, because few Muslims could make the pilgrimage during Soviet times, many see going now as their right and will be angry. Second, at least some Muslims may now turn to local Sufi-controlled pilgrimage sites within the country, something Moscow opposes because these places often radicalize visitors. And third, many Muslims in the Russian Federation may blame Moscow rather than the Saudis for the new restrictions.