Thursday, August 25, 2016

FSB Presses for Expanding Restricted Border Zone in Murmansk Despite Regional Objections

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 25 – Taking advantage of the earlier Syrian refugee crisis that led to a flow of refugees from Syria to Scandinavia via Russia, the FSB is now pressing to expand the size of the zone near Russia’s border with Finland in which no one can enter without special approval, despite the objections of regional officials.

            If the FSB gets its way – and that is probable – the situation in Murmansk oblast will return to what it was in Soviet times or the early post-Soviet years when officials required visitors to places along the Soviet border to get special permission, something that was often denied (

            The FSB plan came to light when a regional blogger posted on line a July 13 response to an FSB proposal to expand the size of the restricted border region (, an event that promoted Murmansk Governor Marina Kovtun to declare in the press that she is opposed to such an action (

            “For many years,” the governor said, “we have been developing cross-border cooperation.” Expanding the special border zone and restricting visitors to it is “not what we have been working for” since the 2012 introduction of visa-free arrangements for local residents on both sides of the border.

            Moscow apparently supported her efforts, but now in the wake of last year’s refugee crisis, things may have changed, Atle Staalesen and Thomas Nilsen of the The Barents Observer portal say.  A year ago, “some 5500 migrants” crossed the border into Norway, but that flow stopped on November 30. Then 1,000 crossed into Finland before that too stopped February 29.

            Since that date, the two journalists say, “not one single asylum seeker has crossed the borders from Russia’s Kola Peninsula to either Norway or Finland.”

            Russia’s border zone regime has evolved since the end of Soviet times. In the 1990s and the 200s, the authorities divided the border zone in Murmansk into two parts, “the actual border zone” and “the so-called near-border zone.” Those who sought to enter the near-border zone had to show their passports. Non-Russians without a Norwegian passport risked being turned back.

            “Until 2010, FSB could deny foreigners to enter the near-border zone, including to the towns of Nikel and Zapolyarny,” Staalesen and Nilsen say. “Traffic in transit from the border to Murmansk along the main road was allowed ony three days in the week for foreign registered vehicles … Norwegians even needed special permission from FSB border guards to make stops.”

            Then from 2012 to late fall 2015, they say, “the Titovka checkpoint allowed most people through and there were few restrictions on movements for foreigners. Norwegians could freely travel in Pechenga, except in the closed military areas. In the border zone, outside the barbed wire fence … people are only allowed on the road if their papers allow them to enter Norway.”

            Russian security officials aren’t talking for public attribution, but Arild Moe of the Fridthof Nansen Institute in Oslo says that what is taking place reflects the FSB’s desire to restore earlier border restrictions and its belief that European concerns about refugee flows via the north make this a good time to  move in that direction.

            Given Europeans don’t want more immigrants come from the Middle East via any route, including a Russian one, it seems unlikely they will object. But if the FSB gets away with this, it will likely use it as a precedent to expand border zone restrictions elsewhere along the Russian Federation border and return things to where they were in the late Soviet period.

Moscow, Mitrokhin Says, Keeping LNR and DNR from Going to War -- Against Each Other

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 25 – Moscow may or may not use the LNR or DNR to renew its aggression against Russian aggression against Ukraine, but it now faces the challenge of preventing the two from going to war against each other, one it can meet but that by itself highlights the weakness of the Novorossiya project, Nikolay Mitrokhin says.

            A recent series of attacks on and murders of leaders of the pro-Moscow DNR and LNR in the deep rear of areas controlled by the militias, FSB and Russian military personnel raises the question as to who is responsible, the Russian analyst at the University of Bremen says (

            Officials and the media in these Russian-controlled areas in each case sought to lay the blame for these attacks on Ukrainian “diversionists.”  But Mitrokhin suggests that only “na├»ve local residents and those who watch Russian television” can possibly accept that version of events.

            It has been clear for some time, he says, that the leaders of the two entities have anything but good relations, with supporters of the one attacking the leader of the others as a Jew and complaining about the problems that the other entity is causing for theirs because “the larger and economically developed DNR depends on the smaller and weaker LNR.”

            For the DNR, the shortest route to the Russian Federation lies through the LNR, something the LNR recognizes and exploits having established “not a nominal but a completely real border with “its own tariffs, taxes and other” fees to the detriment of the economic and political interests of the DNR.

            “Not only ordinary residents of the DNR but also its wealthy entrepreneurs are suffering from this,” Mitrokhin says, and they are angry about what the LNR is doing.  One of them, Aleksandr Zakharchenko, may hope to lead a combined LDNR in the future given the fact that the Minsk accords have collapsed. That gives him another reason to attack the LNR.

            However that may be, the Bremen-based Russian analyst says, “on the territory which Zakharchenko controls are people who specialize in a certain method of murder.” And it is thus no surprise that LNR leaders are increasing their personnel security arrangements not so much to fend off Ukrainian “diversionists” as to fight DNR and Zakharchenko agents.

            Mitrokhin says that in his view, “there is no reason to expect a serious war between the DNR and the LNR. Both ‘the army’ and other force structures in these ‘republics’ is fully or to a significant degree under the control of Russian curators.”  But that doesn’t mean that it can stamp out all the conflict between the DNR and the LNR.

            The leaders of the two have “the possibility either to settle accounts by economic means … or by sending in hired killers.”  That doesn’t bode well for Moscow’s project, but it may also threaten Ukraine because Moscow may decide that the only way to deal with these conflicts is to give the two “republics” a new common cause – the resumption of aggression against Kyiv.

Ukrainian Independence Shows Bankruptcy of All Three Russian Imperial Projects, Ikhlov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 25 – There “cannot be a more bitter date for contemporary Russia than August 24, 1991,” Yevgeny Ikhlov says, when Ukraine proclaimed its independence and thus showed the bankruptcy of all three Muscovite imperial projects – the Orthodox Third Rome, a European Russian Empire, and “’the new historical community of the Soviet people.’”

            In a commentary on the portal, the Russian analyst says that this becomes clear if one imagines for a minute that Ukraine had not declared its independence but instead had somehow agreed to remain in a Soviet Union “with legitimate President Gorbachev” (

            Had that been the case, he points out, the renewed USSR would have had only “two union sovereign republics, the RSFSR and the Ukrainian SSR,” and the two would, according to the April 23, 1991, decision of the USSR Supreme Soviet made their respective autonomies “sovereign.”

            Under these conditions, “the Ukrainian SSR would have lost Crimea, but the RSFSR would have lost the North Caucasus, half of the Volga-Urals region, and also the Khanty-Mansiisk and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Districts and Yakutia-Sakha.”  Yeltsin’s Muscovy would have been left “without oil, gas or diamonds.”

            “It would be a good thing,” Ikhlov suggests, to ask those who are nostalgic for an empire of the Russians whether they would want to live in union with Ukraine under the power of Gorbachev (or his successors from the Central Committee) but with new borders for their own union republic along the Terek and Volga.”

            The answers would be self-evident were such people thinking, but they remain prisoners of the kind of passions that led the Israelites to protest against Moses who led them out of Egypt because while in the desert, they remembered that in Egypt and even in Egypt’s jails, they were given food.

            Given that, Ikhlov continues, the departure of Ukraine is an even greater tragedy for these Russians, Ikhlov says, because it highlights the bankruptcies of the three major Russian imperial projects of the last millennium. 

            The first of these, which one can call the Third Rome received “an enormous gift: its vassal became the Hetmanshchina, a significant portion of the former Russian Lithuania along with Kyiv.  That had the effect of convincing Russians that they had a single Orthodox civilization that was “an alternative” to the West.

             “Ukrainian independence in 1991 is a recognition of the historical bankruptcy” of this notion, Ikhlov says.

            The second Russian imperial project was that of Russia as “a joint project of Russians and Ukrainians for the establishment of a European empire as hegemon over the Baltics,” one that resembled in some ways the British Empire as “a joint project of the Anglo-Saxons and the Scots.”

            “Ukrainian independence in 1991 is a recognition of the historical bankruptcy of the project of the European Russian Empire,” he argues.

            And the third Russian imperial project, that of the USSR with its russification and depriving of the Ukrainians of their own identity and with its insistence that Ukrainians be prepared to always be “’the younger brother’” also continues to animate many Russians, Ikhlov suggests.

            But “Ukrainian independence in 1991 is a recognition of the historical bankruptcy of the project of ‘the new historical community of the Soviet people.’”

            It is thus no wonder that Russians find it so hard to accept the idea of Ukrainian independence and at the same time why Ukrainian independence is so important to the possibility, however small, that the Muscovite state and its Russians can overcome their imperial dreams.