North . . .
The Baltic News Network reports (in not the best of English, but the message is clear enough):
Following the events in Ukraine and Crimea, pro-Kremlin forces have become active in Latvia as well. At the end of February, a socially-political organization was founded in Moscow called the Russian International (RusIntern). Its target countries include Ukraine, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Estonia and others. One of the first actions to be performed by this organization was the formation of self-defence units in Crimea. It was done in order to express support for Crimea’s joining of the Russian Federation. This organization promises to defend Russian schools and rights of non-citizens in Latvia…
According to the BNS report Rusintern (the name, of course, a deliberate echo of the Comintern of old) is, uh, well-connected in Moscow. And it’s doing what this sort of front organization always does:
Leaders of RusIntern regularly come forth with statements expressing their concern for Russians in the world, especially those living in countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. Latvia’s representative – Sergei Malakhovky – was present when this organization was formed. He expressed his deep gratitude to Kremlin politicians for this…
… The dossier of the head of RusIntern – Zhuravlev – states that its goal is the creation of complex socially-political structures. In order for this structure to contribute to the expansion of Russia’s influence, the organization has already found people in specific regions – Ukraine, Moldova and Baltic Countries. ‘We have acquired information that they are likely to try become active in Latvia in matters related to defence of interests of national minorities and Russian schools. What is even more important – they will try to get people to leave their homes and take it out to the streets by means of protest acts. This is why we will keep a close eye on activities of this organization,’ – says the head of Latvian Security Police.
To repeat the gist of what I posted a week or so ago, claims that the Russian-speaking minorities in Latvia and Estonia are in any way “persecuted” is nonsense. The Kremlin, quite clearly, plans on arguing the opposite, to what ends it is not too difficult to imagine.
Meanwhile, turning to the old Soviet southwest, note this from the Russian summary of today’s call between Putin and Obama:
Vladimir Putin also pointed out that Transnistria is essentially experiencing a blockade, which significantly complicate the living conditions for the region’s residents, impeding their movement and normal trade and economic activities. He stressed that Russia stands for the fair and comprehensive settlement of the Transnistria conflict and hopes for effective work in the existing 5+2 negotiation format.
Transnistria (there are other spellings to choose from, but it is more formally known as the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic) is a curious sort of place, hacked out of Moldava in 1992 and recognized de jure by only a handful of dodgy “states,” but de facto by Moscow, and that is what counts. Basically this territory was joined to Moldava (then Bessarabia/Moldavia) when that region was grabbed by the Soviets from Romania in 1940 (courtesy of the deal that Stalin had cut with Hitler) but its ethnic composition was different (now much more so) from what became the Moldavian SSR. No less critically, it played host to a Red Army base, something that made all the difference in 1992. According to Wikipedia, Russians, Ukrainians and Moldovans each make up about 30 percent of its population.
In a 2006 poll noted by this Washington Post report (a suspiciously high?) 96 percent of the Transnistrian population wanted to join Russia. That might (well) overstate things, but a reasonable guess is that most people there want just that.
Is it being blockaded? Not really, but its indeterminate diplomatic status has come at a price.
And if Putin wanted to break this non-existent blockade by any means other than an airlift the “best” way to do so is (look at the map) through Ukraine.
As for Ukraine, Putin had this to say to Obama:
“Vladimir Putin drew Barack Obama’s attention to continued rampage of extremists who are committing acts of intimidation towards peaceful residents, government authorities and law enforcement agencies in various regions and in Kiev with impunity. In light of this, the President of Russia suggested examining possible steps the global community can take to help stabilize the situation…”
While there have been disturbance in Kiev involving Ukraine’s ultra-nationalist Right Sector following the curious death of one of its leaders, Putin’s description of the situation in the country is, as so often, a grotesque exaggeration.
But grotesque exaggerations have their uses.