Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Daghestanis Who Fought for ISIS in Syria Now Rejoining Radicals at Home, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 25 – Russia’s National Anti-Terrorist Committee has announced that Russian forces have killed nine militants in southern Daghestan in recent days an indication, experts say, that young Daghestanis who went to Syria to fight for ISIS have now returned home and resumed their fight there together with those who have been radicalized but never left.

            In short, these killings confirm what many observers had long predicted and feared: any victory over Islamist forces in the Middle East will lead those from the North Caucasus to return home, recruit others, and continue their fight, a trend that suggests there will be an upsurge in violence in the coming weeks and months.

            Magomed Magomedov, a correspondent for Makhachkala’s Chernovik newspaper, and Ruslan Kurbanov, the head of the Russian Congress of Peoples of the Caucasus, made these points in a conversation with OnKavkaz’s Ilyas Bukarov (

            Bukarov said that in his view, “the renewal of the activity of the militants can be connected with the inevitable defeat of the illegal armed formations in Syria.”  Young Daghestanis who went there appear to have decided “to relocate back to Daghestan,” he said but added that he hoped he was “mistaken” in that interpretation.

            Magomedov said that regardless of how many are returning, “the radicalization of young people” in Daghestan has been so great that their numbers have not been significantly reduced by those who left to fight “in Syria or other places.”  And that radicalization is leading to the formation of more militant groups.”

            And Kurbanov said that the situation with regard to religious radicalism especially in southern Daghestan is complicated by the fact that officials are uncertain how to deal with the conflicts among the Sufi, Salafi and Shiia communities and the conflicts “found within practically each family between believing younger generations and their unbelieving relatives.”

            He added that the success the authorities had in northern portions of Daghestan had blinded them to the rise of such militants in southern Daghestan in and around Derbent. But with the return of ISIS fighters from Syria, “the activization of armed groups [there] is completely explicable” and will likely spread northward.

Administrative Borders in Russian Far North have ‘No Real Meaning,’ Geographer Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 25 – Population density in the central portions of the Russian North is so low and declining so fast that administrative-territorial borders have “no real meaning,” despite their importance elsewhere and apparent significance there, according to Yury Golubchikov, a geographer at Moscow State University.

            The northernmost portions of Central Siberia form as it were “the northern fa├žade of Russia,” he writes in Nezavimaya gazeta today. Indeed, this enormous territory has become “the center of Russia” because with the disintegration of the USSR, the country’s mid-point shifted from Tomsk Oblast to Krasnoyarsk Kray (

            And the population and hence population density of this enormous region is extremely low: If in Siberia and the Far East as a whole, there are approximately two people for every square kilometer, in the Evenk and Taymyr regions of Krasnoyarsk Kray, there is only one person for every 10 to 50 square kilometers.

            As a result, Golubchikov writes, “the administrative-territorial borders are conditional and do not have any real importance.” 

            “For example,” he continues, “the Taymyr Region … has an area greater than that of Ukraine and Belarus taken together.” When it ceased to be an autonomous district in 2006, it was given the Dikson municipality as well, a territory of some 219,000 square kilometers, or almost five times the size of Moscow Oblast.

            Dikson is in many regards “the capital of the Arctic and the Northern Sea Route;” but there are few people there: “Three decades ago, 5,000 people lived there; by 2016, [only] 609 remained. The settlement is 500 kilometers away from Dudinki, the capital of the Taymyr Region, where there are 23,500 residents.

            “But there is no direct flight: A plane flies only once a week along the Krasnoyarsk-Norilsk-Dikson route,” the geographer says.

            South of the Taymyr Region is the Evenk district which was autonomous until 2005. “It is smaller than the Taymyr, but also exceeds the area of Ukraine plus Moldova. In Ture, its capital, live 5500 residents”  Golubchik says. Only about 10,000 more live spread across its enormous territory.

            Nowhere on earth “with the exception of the Arctic islands and Antarctica can one find a region so difficult to reach as this portion of the Russian North, he continues.  Chukotka is more accessible because of the ocean, and Sakha is connected with the rest of the country by roads and railways.  But one can only fly or use icebreakers to get to the North of Central Siberia.

            “The massive depopulation of the Russian North” over the last 25 years when more than a million people have left for the southern and western portions of the country, the geographer argues, “has become a threat to national security.”  And something must be done to reverse this trend and repopulate the region.

            Golubchik suggests that tourism may be the answer. “Nowhere in the Arctic can one find a region with such ethnic diversity of indigenous peoples,” and tourism works in such places because it is necessarily seasonal and thus does not destroy the traditional way of life of such communities.

‘Kiev’ Becomes Kyiv for the US Government – Finally

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 25 – The US State Department office responsible for nomenclature has directed that from now on, US government agencies will refer to the capital of Ukraine as Kyiv, as it is transliterated from the Ukrainian, rather than Kiev, as transliterated from the Russian, a small change with potentially far reaching consequences. 

            Kyiv’s Delovaya stolitsa newspaper reports this change today ( citing a report by the Voice of America’s Ukrainian Service (

            State Department representative Tom Casey said the change was being made so that the name used by the US government would correspond to the one “Ukrainians and other international organizations employ” and that the shift “is not political.”  But, of course, it is, and in a double sense.

            On the one hand, it is a mark of respect for Ukrainians and the Ukrainian language.  And on the other, it is one more indication that Washington and the West more generally will approach Ukraine not through Moscow and its putative “Russian world” but directly and in Ukrainian.

            In the 26 years since the demise of the USSR, the United States and some other Western countries have all too often continued to view Ukraine and other countries in the region through a Russian lens, often sending more diplomats who speak Russian than speak the national languages because there are more of the former than the latter and because officials say the elites in these countries still speak Russian.

            That has always been insulting; and it has sometimes led to horrors as when Western embassies have had to rely on “foreign service nationals” who do speak the national languages but who sometimes are under pressure from the governments of their countries for reporting on developments not reported as well or even at all in the Russian-language media.

            The change for Ukraine’s capital is a welcome sign that this is changing. One can only hope it will quickly be extended to other toponyms not only in that country but elsewhere as well.