Saturday, February 24, 2018

As Estonia Passes 100, Tallinn has Successfully Integrated Nearly 90 Percent of Its Ethnic Russians, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 24 – Many in the West, especially in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have expressed concern that Moscow might use the 27 percent of the Estonian population that consists of ethnic Russians as a fifth column against that NATO country and even create a northern “Donbass” at some point in the future.

            But today, as Estonia marks its centenary as an independent state, Tallinn has successfully integrated either as citizens or loyal permanent residents seven out of eight of these ethnic Russians, dramatically reducing the possibility that they could ever serve as the basis for any Russian advance.

            The 340,000 ethnic Russians in Estonia are an extremely diverse group. Many have learned Estonian and become Estonian citizens, tying their future to that country. Approximately 90,000 have the so-called “gray passports” of non-citizens who have permanent residence and who are overwhelmingly interested in being part of Estonia and Europe.

            Indeed, according to Dmitry Tseperik, head of the International Center for Defense and Security, only 90,000 have acquired passports of the Russian Federation, and most of these want to remain in Estonia and within the EU. Estonia thus faces a far smaller “ethnic Russian” problem than many assume (

            According to research his center has conducted Tseperik says, only “about 12 percent” of all Russians – approximately 40,000 people – might constitute a potential threat in the event of a Russian hybrid war.  That is about 3 percent of Estonia’s population and while not unimportant is far smaller than the 27 percent often cited.
            In reporting these findings for Belsat, journalist Yakub Bernat says that ethnic Russians in Estonia who do not yet identify with Estonia even now are undergoing “an identity crisis” as the last generation which remembers the Soviet Union dies off and thus they lose “that basis which at one time united Russians.” 
            According to Estonian sociologist Ito Kiiseli, it is “utopian” to imagine that a homogenous Estonian society will ever be created. It will always consist of Estonians and Russians, but “language is not the key criterion of loyalty to Estonia. Much more important is one’s position on the social ladder.”
            “Many Russians who are loyal to the [Estonian] state do not speak Estonian,” Kiiselli says. “Language, citizenship, and loyalty are not necessarily interconnected. Many residents of Estonia want to have gray passports in order to travel to Russia. They don’t need citizenship because the only thing they lose by not having it is voting in national elections.”       
            Under Estonian law, they can vote in local ones, and “this for them,” the sociologist says, “is more important.”
            “I think,” she says, “that our community always will be separate but not from fear or hostility but on the basis of whom you go drinking with or whom you understand better. We organize joint measures, but sometimes we prefer to be among our own.” That is true for both groups, but for most this doesn’t undercut loyalty to the country.

Russian Private Military Companies Rapidly Growing Sector, Participants and Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 24 – Private military companies are a highly profitable growth sector because both the Russian government and business increasingly rely on them, their employees and outside experts say. And because of that, Duma members say, the government will soon legalize them so as to be able to tax them too.

            Mikhail Bely, a journalist for the URA news agency, says that ever more men are applying to work for these companies even though they are illegal in Russia and thus any employee could be charged with violating the country’s restrictions against mercenary activity and facing 15 years in prison (

                These companies have increased both in size and in number, with many of them working abroad guarding ships from pirates in the Indian Ocean, some world leaders like Bashar Asad of Syria, and providing guidance and training to foreign militaries and businesses. Sometimes, employees say, they work abroad for the Russian government as well.

            One private military company employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the reasons the firms were growing so quickly just now including: rising unemployment in Russia forcing people to take what jobs they can get, an expanding number of military conflicts, and the difficulties military and police retirees face finding jobs.

            There are more applicants than positions, however, and so the companies can be highly selective. Only those with sterling backgrounds and good skills will be offered positions. Many who do get jobs don’t understand the risks: if they get in trouble abroad, the Russian government often can’t do anything for them – and they can’t sue the companies.

            Iosif Linder, president of the International Counter-Terrorist Association, says that private military companies are invariably closely tied to governments and their security services. “It cannot be otherwise.”  Some invest in these companies; others find it easier to hire people, have them die at work, and then hire more.

            Some think that mercenaries get rich, but that’s not the case. Yes, they make 3000 to 4000 US dollars a month, a lot by Russian standards, Linder says; but employees aren’t going to become “multi-millionaires.” 

            According to Sergey Sudakov, a candidate member of the Academy of Military Sciences, says that “the legalization of private military companies in Russia is extremely necessary.” He urges Moscow to copy the US approach in using such structures because that will allow Russia to solve many problems that are now beyond its capacity.

            The most important reason for legalization, he continues, is that it will create additional jobs and give those who have them social guarantees that they or their heirs can defend in court. 

In Soviet Times, More Russians Attended Orthodox Services in Daghestan than Do Now

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 24 – The killing of five Orthodox Christian women by a Muslim youth in Kizlyar on February 18 has attracted new attention to the small Russian Orthodox community in Daghestan, its role as a protector of the ethnic Russians there, and its relations with both the civil authorities and various Muslim groups.

            The Meduza news agency dispatched Sasha Sulim, one of its correspondents, to intervene key players in that North Caucasus republic as well as experts on religious affairs in the North Caucasus more generally. His report provides an unusually intriguing picture of what has been going on (

            Sulim spoke first with Father Pavel, aged 29, who serves as the pastor of the Russian church where the attack occurred as well as a pastor for one of the other two Orthodox congregations in Kizlyar. He called that city “an outpost of Orthodoxy” in Daghestan because it is the republic’s most Russian city: 40 percent of 50,000 residents are ethnic Russians.

            “My task,” the priest says, “is to support these people so that they will not feel abandoned by others, will understand that the church is at their sides, and that the Lord will not leave anyone.  Between 150 and 180 parishioners of Kizlyar’s three Orthodox churches attend services each week.

            After the attack on the church, he reported, local police have stood guard at the entrances of all the Orthodox churches in Daghestan and held meetings with Russian parishioners. One of them said that “even in Soviet times, when religion was prohibited, there were more people in church on holidays.”

            “In the 1990s,” he continued, “a very large number of ethnic Russians left Daghestan. There was simply no one left to go to church. They left because of economic difficulties and also because non-Russian clans more or less blocked their being hired or promoted in most local institutions.

            Roman Lunkin, the head of the center for the study of religion and society at the Moscow Institute of Europe, said that in the early 1990s, Orthodox began to revive in Daghestan but that trend was overwhelmed by the outflow of ethnic Russians and then stopped altogether.  Local Muslims viewed the Russians as being “’on the other side of the barricades.’”

            Archbishop Varlaam of Makhachkala and Grozny also remembers the 1990s as a difficult time. Then he was pastor at a church in Ingushetia.  He said that it once happened that a Muslim shot a Russian family but that the reasons behind that action were not religious, although he didn’t elaborate.

            The Makhachkala bishopric, formed in 2012, includes Dagehstan, Chechnya and Ingushetia; and Orthodoxy got a second wind, although the archbishop said he wouldn’t call it a revival but rather a period during which “Orthodoxy began to occupy a more solid place in the Daghestan system of power” and developed ties with local Muslim and Jewish groups.

            Valaam added that the Russian community in Daghestan is still at risk and that “if the state doesn’t help it, then it will be very hard for the Russians to survive here. He said there are about 60,000 Russians in Daghestan, 2,000 in Ingushetia and 10,000 in Chechnya.  Unfortunately, their number and the number of parishioners are both falling.

            Lunkin says that “neither now nor at the end of the 1990s or beginning of the 2000s did the Russian Orthodox Church seek to spread the Christian faith to the indigenous peoples of Daghestan. Its main goal was the consolidation and support of the ethnic Russian population.” Protestant groups, however, were active in missionary work.

            Paradoxically, the Moscow scholar continues, “the Kizlyar tragedy has strengthened the position of Orthodoxy in the region” because it has led to closer cooperation between the church and Islam and between both and the state agencies. And it has further isolated the Wahhabis whom many associate with extremism.

            But these events have highlighted something else: the rapid growth of Salafi Muslims in the republic.  Sulim spoke with Imam Nimatulla Radzhabov of the so-called Salafi Tangim Mosque in Makhachakala.  In 1999, it had about 400 parishioners. Now, it attracts 5,000 on holidays and “about 3,000” every week.

                 The police closely monitor its activities, Radzhabov says. Indeed, the men in uniform call the mosque “the chicken which lays the golden eggs,” in this case, not really eggs, but golden stars for their shoulder boards.