Richard Melson

April 2006


Stephen Shenfield



Issue No. 35

April 2006

Editor: Stephen D. Shenfield

For back issues go to the RAS archive at:



1. The future of opposition


2. Market integration


3. Haemorrhagic fever moves north


4. America's new map of the world: implications for Russia

5. China's map of the world: Russia as "older sister"

6. China in Central Asia


7. Stalin and Israel


8. Radioactive scavengers





SOURCE. Vladimir Gelman (European University at St. Petersburg), Political Opposition in Russia: A Dying Species? Post-Soviet Affairs, Vol. 21, No. 3, July-September 2005, pp. 226-46

Since 2000, as the author observes, the phenomenon of political opposition has nearly disappeared from the Russian scene. Formerly prominent opposition figures and organizations have been co-opted or marginalized, and no successors have emerged to replace them. Why has this happened? And what future does opposition have in Russia?

First Professor Gelman disposes of several commonly offered explanations that he considers inadequate. The experience of France under General de Gaulle shows that such factors as a president's personal popularity, improvement in economic conditions, and the shortcomings of individual opposition politicians (e.g., their failure to form viable coalitions) do not in themselves lead to the extinction of opposition. The view that democracy is weak because the Russian people remain in the grip of an anti-democratic political culture flies in the face of survey evidence showing that most Russians do in fact understand and support democracy. (1) It also neglects the fact that political systems have considerable autonomy and do not stem directly from popular values and attitudes.

The author proceeds to construct a two-dimensional conceptual map of varieties of political opposition. In terms of ends, a continuum stretches from "minimalist" semi- or quasi-opposition that seeks to enter or capture government but not to make any major systemic or policy change to radical or "maximalist" opposition. A corresponding continuum in terms of means goes from strictly legal or "loyal" opposition through "semi-loyal" to "disloyal" opposition that is prepared to use illegal means, including violence.

Gelman then relates the opportunities that the political system provides for different kinds of opposition to the structure of the political elite. Elite structure is defined in terms of:

(a) level of "integration" -- i.e., the ability of segments of the elite to cooperate; and

(b) level of "differentiation" -- i.e., the functional and organizational diversity of elite segments and their relative autonomy from the state and from one another.

This generates the following typology (2):

Type 1. Ideocratic elite. Integration high, differentiation low. Stable non-democratic regime with no opportunities for opposition of any kind. Both the Soviet regime pre-Gorbachev and the emerging Putin regime belong to this type. (3)

Type 2. Divided elite. Integration low, differentiation low. Unstable non-democratic regime with opportunities for disloyal opposition. This type is exemplified by the "dual power" of president and parliament (Supreme Soviet) in 1991-93.

Type 3. Fragmented elite. Integration low, differentiation high. Unstable democratic regime with opportunities for loyal opposition. This type is exemplified by the regionally fragmented power system of the period 1994-99.

Type 4. Consensual elite. Integration high, differentiation high. Stable democratic regime with opportunities for loyal opposition. Russia never managed to make it to this one!

The author examines how three different opposition forces -- the CPRF, the market liberals, and the democrats -- have attempted to navigate the treacherous waters of changing elite structures and regime types. The CPRF refused to choose between loyal and disloyal opposition, while Yabloko -- categorized as a "democratic" rather than "liberal" opposition (4) -- vacillated between semi-opposition and full opposition.

Gelman attributes the decline of opposition in recent years to structural changes that have progressively narrowed the opportunities available to opposition forces. These changes include the tightening of regime control over the mass media as well as the reform of parliamentary and other state institutions. Actually, different opposition forces have now begun to work together, as in the umbrella organization called Committee-2008. But they will be unable to take electoral advantage of their newfound unity because the elections law of 2005 prohibits the formation of electoral coalitions.

The author warns that the apparent hopelessness of legal opposition entails the real danger that some alienated groups will resort to violence in forms that may include both terrorism and pogroms. But there is still the possibility that new conflicts within the elite will revive the potential of loyal opposition. In the event that efforts to sustain elite unity and ensure elite continuity through a monopolist "party of power" succeed, political opposition may be marginalized for decades, as happened in Mexico. Of course, even in Mexico the monopoly of the ruling PRI did not last forever.


(1) See, for instance, RAS No. 1 item 11 and No. 11 item 3.

(2) Adapted from other authors (John Higley et al.)

(3) I think the name chosen for this type is unfortunate. Surely the Putin regime demonstrates that this type of structure need not be "ideocratic" in the sense of the dominant role of ideology.

(4) He argues, in my view rightly, that "liberals" (in the sense of advocates of the free market) and "democrats" should not be lumped together. However, allocating specific parties to one or the other of these categories is not so easy.



SOURCE. Konstantin Glushchenko (1), Integrirovannost rossiiskogo rynka: Empiricheskii analiz (Degree of Integration of the Russian Market: An Empirical Analysis). Report No. 04/06 of Economics Education and Research Consortium (Moscow, 2004)

The late 1980s and early 1990s were marked by the regional fragmentation of markets in Russia. Since 1994 the reverse trend has been in operation and national markets have gradually emerged. How far has Russia progressed toward full market integration?

The author investigated the evolving spatial structure of markets in 25 basic food products (2) over the period 1994--2000 in the administrative centers of 75 of Russia's 89 regions. (3) The data analyzed were monthly time series for retail prices. He estimated average prices for Russia as a whole, weighting prices in regional centers by regional population. On the basis of a comparison between these national prices and prices in each region over time, he then classified regions into three groups:

* In 27 regions (36 percent) prices fluctuated around national prices throughout the period studied. That is, these regions were already "integrated" in 1994 and remained so.

* In 33 regions (44 percent) prices diverged significantly from national prices but were moving (at widely varying rates) toward integration during the period studied.

* In 15 regions (20 percent) prices diverged significantly from national prices and there was no detectable trend toward integration.

The 8 large and remote regions of Siberia that are officially classified as "difficult of access" (trudnodostupny) all fell into the third group. It is only to be expected that retail prices (4) should be considerably above the national average in these regions due to high distribution costs. The "non-integrated" group also included Moscow (notorious for its high prices), St. Petersburg, Kostroma, Kirov, Mari El, Mordovia, and Chuvashia.

"Non-integration" cannot be attributed to the isolation of regional economies. It was found that price disturbances in any given region on average affect prices in 62 percent of the remaining regions. This indicates strong connections among regional economies.

The author concludes that by the year 2000 market integration in Russia had reached a natural limit. It is not to be expected that integration will ever be complete, especially where retail prices are concerned. In fact, if the "difficult of access" regions are excluded from the analysis, then we find that the interregional dispersion of prices in Russia is comparable with that in the US, which is usually considered highly integrated. (5)


(1) The author is an associate of the Institute of the Economics and Organization of Industrial Production of the Siberian Division of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Novosibirsk. E-mail

(2) As defined in the State Statistics Committee (Goskomstat). This is about one third of the products considered in calculating the Index of Food Prices.

(3) The autonomous districts (okrugs) were excluded, as were Chechnya and Ingushetia. Moscow Province and Leningrad Province were also excluded because their administrative centers -- the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg -- count as regions in their own right.

(4) It would have been preferable to use wholesale prices, as these are less influenced by geographical variations in distribution costs. However, data on wholesale prices were not available.

(5) Arguably Alaska should also have been excluded from this comparison.




SOURCE. Russian Academy of Medical Sciences et al. Izmenenie klimata i zdorov'ye naseleniya Rossii v XXI veke [Climate Change and the Health of the Population of Russia in the 21st Century]. Moscow: Adamant, 2004. Paper by A. M. Butenko and V. F. Larichev (Ivanovsky Institute of Virology of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences)

In the last issue (No. 34 item 5) I talked about the recent resurgence and northward spread of malaria in Russia and the post-Soviet region, in part as a result of global warming. This source draws our attention to a similar trend in relation to the viral disease now known as Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF). (1) CCHF is regarded as one of the highly contagious "newly emerging" viral diseases that pose an increasing threat to global public health. (2)

CCHF has been found in many parts of Africa, southern Europe, and Asia with the exception of North Asia and the Far East. Its most serious effects are high fever and severe internal bleeding, leading to collapse and death within about ten days in roughly 30 percent of cases. For survivors recovery is very slow. There is no known cure.

Unlike malaria, which is carried by mosquitoes, the main reservoirs and vectors for CCHF are certain kinds of ticks, although many animals also serve as hosts. The infected ticks are carried around by various animals: the authors blame rooks and other birds for disseminating CCHF to new areas in Russia. Moreover, the ticks themselves pick up the virus from small vertebrates on which they feed as larvae.

Within the former Soviet Union, besides Crimea, CCHF is found in the Caucasus and adjoining areas of southern Russia, in Ukraine's Lugansk Province, and in Central Asia. Prevalence has gone through some very sharp ups and downs over the years.

By far the worst period since registration of the disease began in 1947 has been the 1960s. In 1965 American experts were invited to join their Soviet colleagues on a month-long investigative tour of the worst affected areas. (3)

However, throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and early to middle 1990s cases of CCHF were rare and confined to only some of the areas where the disease had been prevalent in the 1960s. For instance, no cases at all were registered in Rostov Province in the periods

1972--1992 and 1994--2000. Nor were there any known cases there before 1963.

Since 1999 there has been a sharp resurgence in CCHF in Russia, although levels are still far from the peaks reached in the 1960s. Moreover, the disease has appeared for the first time in Kalmykia (49 cases in 2000--2003), Dagestan (data unreliable), and Volgograd Province (33 cases in 2000--2003). The spread of CCHF into Volgograd Province is especially significant because it is markedly to the north of the region traditionally affected.

The authors make a strong case in favor of a direct link between the prevalence of CCHF and weather conditions. Thus they attribute the decline from 131 cases in 1968 to 32 in 1969 in Rostov Province to an unusually cold and dry winter followed by a late and brief summer. As a result, the ticks were much less numerous that year; they became active 3-4 weeks later than usual and remained active for only one month (usually it's two months). Therefore there is some basis for drawing a connection between the new upward trend since 1999 and global warming.


(1) The disease was first identified in Crimea in 1944 and given the name "Crimean haemorrhagic fever." In 1969 it was recognized that this was the same as a disease first identified in Congo in 1956, leading to adoption of the current name.

(2) See Laurie Garrett, The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance (Penguin, 1994) and Frank Ryan, Virus X: Tracking the New Killer Plagues (Little, Brown, & Co., 1997).

(3) The most prominent of these American experts were Jordi Casals and Karl Johnson of the Rockefeller Foundation laboratory in New Haven, CT (Garrett, p. 82). They went to Crimea, Central Asia, and also Omsk in Siberia. The outbreak in Omsk may have been not CCHF but some other viral haemorrhagic disease.




SOURCE. Julian Borger, Ewen MacAskill, and Jonathan Watts, "Welcome to the changing world order: New diplomatic priorities reflect dramatic shift in balance of power," The Guardian Weekly, March 10-16, 2006, p. 8

This article examines how and why various countries -- mainly the US and Britain, but paying some attention to Germany, France, and China -- are reallocating their diplomatic personnel among foreign states in accordance with new priorities.

I find most fascinating the map of the world that accompanies the article, entitled "View from Washington DC." The map assigns various states and international institutions (the UN and the EU) to priority classes numbered 1 to 4, in some cases with a brief explanation attached. Many of the world's states don't even make it into class 4.

Although priority classes are not precisely defined and no information is provided about how countries were assigned to them, let us assume that the authors are sufficiently well informed and consider the implications of their world map, especially for Russia and the post-Soviet region.

Priority Class 1 contains 6 states:

* China, "the most important long-term military and economic threat to US power"

* Japan

* Iraq (Baghdad has the world's largest US embassy)

* the 3 biggest West European states: Germany, Britain, and France

Priority Class 2 contains 8 states and 2 institutions:

* Canada and Mexico, as the US' immediate neighbors

* India, "an emerging giant, de facto nuclear power, and important counterweight to China"

* Pakistan

* South Korea

* Israel

* Russia

* Italy

* the UN and the EU

Priority Class 3 contains 5 states:

* Brazil, "dominant in South America"

* Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt

Priority Class 4 contains 6 states:

* Indonesia, Thailand, and Taiwan

* Bahrain

* South Africa

* Spain

The significance of the map is enhanced by the fact that the new view of the world from the main West European capitals is apparently quite similar to that from Washington. (1)

We see that while Russia has lost its foremost position as chief adversary to China it is still regarded as fairly important to the US, though not significantly more so than, for instance, Italy or South Korea. A factor that might be seen as compensating for Russia's loss of status in American eyes is the absence from the four priority classes of all other post-Soviet states and, indeed, of all East European states. (2) This augurs well for the chance that the US at least may allow Russia a free hand in its "near abroad."

Another conclusion I draw from the map is that Russia's policy toward China may play a crucial role in determining its whole international orientation. At one extreme, it may aspire to achieving greater importance in Western eyes by acting, like India and perhaps in collaboration with India, as a counterweight to China. At the other extreme, consolidation of Russia's cooperative and somewhat unequal relationship with China may push it, more or less against its will, into confrontation with the US (and to a lesser extent with the EU). (3) Or, of course, Russia may succeed in maintaining its current strategy of balancing between the US, the EU, and China.


(1) There are some differences of emphasis. For example, West European countries tend to see China as an economic but not a military threat.

(2) The article starts with the story of an American diplomat who has "struggled through five months" of learning Polish only to be told that he will be going to El Salvador instead.

(3) For more on this scenario, see the following item.




SOURCE. Center for Political Information (Moscow). Information-Analytical Bulletin No. 10, 2005. Kitai--Rossiya: "Podvodnye kamni" otnoshenii [China--Russia: Underwater Reefs in their Relations]

The main text of this source was prepared by analysts of the Center for Political Information (CPI). Of particular interest is Appendix 1 "On the Chinese Threat to Russia and Its Neutralization" -- a report of hearings held by the Union of Military Sinologists at the Military Institute of Foreign Languages in Moscow on October 5, 2004.

One remarkable thing about relations between post-Soviet Russia and China is the sustained coexistence -- in different compartments, as it were -- of official "strategic partnership" at the level of global geopolitics and geo-economics with serious tensions "on the ground" in the border regions. Close relations between the two capitals do not seem greatly to mitigate the cross-border tensions, nor do the latter seem to jeopardize the former.

On the positive side of the ledger we may note:

* growing economic and technological interdependence: for instance, Russia not only provides China with oil but also builds atomic and thermal energy plants in China.

* the perception of both powers that they face a linked threat from "Islamic terror and separatism" (Chechnya for Russia, Xinjiang for China)

* the resolution of most (but not all) issues of border demarcation

* confidence-building measures in the military sphere

At the same time, there are widespread fears on the Russian side concerning Chinese economic and demographic expansion into the Amur region of southeast Siberia and the Russian Far East. The analysts of the CPI refer to continued "concealed annexation" of Russian territory, with whole towns of Chinese migrants growing up that are not marked on any map. (1) They also claim that Chinese intelligence agencies infiltrate their people into the administrations of Russian border regions, where they concentrate power in their hands by corrupting their colleagues with "Chinese money." Chinese businessmen do the same for commercial purposes.

Chinese economic activity also poses threats to ecological resources in the Russian border region -- e.g., to water volume and water purity in north-flowing cross-border rivers such as the Irtysh, (2) or to fish stocks in the Amur, along which runs most of the border between the two countries. (3)

One potentially dangerous issue is that of China's access to the Sea of Japan. Exports from the industrial heartland of northeast China (Manchuria) have to be transported south to ports on the Yellow Sea, but it would be more convenient if they could be taken east to the Sea of Japan. However, although Chinese territory extends to within a few miles of this sea, the coastal strip is divided between Russia's Maritime (Primorye) Territory and North Korea. On an inspection tour of the Russia-China-Korea border area on the River Tumangan, Deng Xiaoping is said to have stated that "northeast China must have an outlet on the Sea of Japan." The Russian military sinologists argue that in the absence of preventive diplomacy the "natural course of events" will lead to a Chinese demand for a transit corridor to the sea, backed up by a demonstration of military force. They suggest that China be granted such a corridor in exchange for undertaking large-scale investment in the Kaliningrad exclave. (4)


Now let's step back from specific issues and look at the broader strategic picture. The military sinologists start by pointing out some characteristic features of Chinese foreign policy thinking and discourse:

* Crucial points are made not directly and explicitly, but by means of symbolism, subtle hints and allusions, and omission.

* Chinese analysts tend to interpret current events by seeking parallels in Chinese history. Thus, a one-to-one correspondence is established between contemporary states and Chinese kingdoms in the "warring states" period (before China was unified by Chin).

* Key documents on foreign policy doctrine and strategy are "secret" -- although the military sinologists evidently know what they say.

* Great emphasis is placed on cunning. The ultimate goal is to "overcome" other power centers and make the 21st century the "Chinese century." This, however, is not to be done by war if at all possible, but rather through the manipulation of peaceful, cooperative relations over a long period of time.

According to the military sinologists, Chinese doctrine envisions four stages in China's rise to world power:

1. The stage of Mao Zedong and the first generation of leaders (1959--79). Motto: "Liberation and Rebirth"

2. The stage of Deng Xiaoping and the second generation of leaders (1979--89). Motto: "Modernization and Growth"

3. The stage of Ziang Zemin and the third generation of leaders (1989-2009). Motto: "Stabilization and Harmonization"

4. The stage of the fourth generation of leaders (2009-2019). Motto: "Greatness and Dignity"

It is hypothesized that under the pressure of globalization the current leaders have brought forward the planned date of transition to Stage 4. Alternatively, the dividing line between the last two stages may have been blurred.

The main military-political tasks facing China in Stage 4 are:

* reincorporating Taiwan in China

* ensuring China's unreserved sovereignty over Tibet and Xinjiang

* shifting China's strategic borders beyond national territory -- or (to borrow a Russian term) creating a "near abroad." This is to include bordering areas of Siberia and the Russian Far East, Central Asia, and Outer Mongolia.


In Russian commentary on the shifting relationship between Russia and China I detect three tendencies:

-- reassuring, i.e., denying that a substantial shift in power in favor of China has been occurring;

-- alarmist, i.e., warning that Russia faces an urgent existential threat and must take drastic counteraction;

-- adaptive, i.e., accepting that the shift is occurring and is unlikely to be reversed and seeking ways of adapting to and making the best of the situation.

There are signs that the first two tendencies have been losing ground to the third. For example, according to a recent statement by the newly appointed presidential envoy to the Far East Federal District, former mayor of Kazan Kamil Ishkhakov, it is necessary to settle an additional 18 million people in the border areas. These people could come from Russia, other post-Soviet states, or "neighboring countries." Clearly a large proportion of them will come from China. "Many in the Far East assume that they will soon share their territory with the Chinese and more and more young people are learning Chinese." (5)

The "expert" attitude that informs this source is also "adaptive." On the one hand, it is inevitable that Russia's power position vis-a-vis China will continue to deteriorate. Thus, China will soon overtake Russia in the technological level of its industry and armed forces, thanks in large part to its practice of hiring unemployed Russian scientists and engineers. On the other hand, there is no need for panic. It may be possible to manage the relationship with China in such a way as to protect Russia's vital interests.

One reason for hoping that this may be possible lies in another characteristic Chinese habit -- that of interpreting interstate relations in familial terms. In the 1950s the Soviet Union was China's "older brother." In the 1960s it lost this status and has yet to achieve a definite new status "in the hierarchy of the Sino-centric world." The Chinese have not resolved to reduce Russia to the status of a younger relative. They are more inclined to offer Russia the status of "older sister." An older sister, of course, lacks the authority of an older brother. Her role is on the whole a passive one. But she is protected, honored, and respected, and her interests are taken into account. This is the best of the options realistically available to Russia. Russia can live with it.

The Russian analysts assume that Russia has to find its place in a world in which the main axis of confrontation will be China versus the West (or possibly just China versus the US). In order to achieve the desired status of China's elder sister, Russia must distance itself from the West. Otherwise the Chinese will regard Russia as a "weak satellite" and "outpost" of its global adversary and Russia will be exposed to the full force of Chinese expansion. If Russia sides with China, then Siberia will become China's "strategic rear" and reserve of energy resources, raw materials, technologies, etc. Russia will enjoy China's protection and goodwill. Chinese economic and demographic expansion into Russian territory will be regulated by mutual agreement at an acceptable level, while the main thrust of Chinese expansion will be diverted southward.

The conclusion is even, it seems, drawn that the worse relations get between China and the West the better that is for Russia. For example, the Taiwan issue exacerbates China-US tensions and impedes the normalization of China-EU relations. And that is good because it enables Russia further to improve its relations with China and puts Russian arms exporters in a stronger position to sell to China (as China can't get the arms from Europe due to the embargo).

My conclusions? I'll offer a couple.

First of all, with few exceptions the Russians remain afraid of the Chinese. Those who seek alliance with China are no less afraid than those who openly view China as an enemy. In both cases fear is the overriding motive.

Second, if world security is our goal, as the name of the institute sponsoring this list suggests it should be, then we have to tackle relations within the Russia--China--West (or Russia--China--US) triangle as a single complex rather than focusing on each side of the triangle separately. (6)


(1) For assessments of these fears, see RAS No. 1 item 8 (on Chinese in the Russian Far East) and No. 11 item 7 (on Chinese in Moscow).

(2) These rivers carry sometimes highly toxic pollutants from Chinese industrial plants over the border to Russian communities dependent on their water. On the conflict over the water resources of the Irtysh, see RAS No. 9 item 8.

(3) See RAS No. 27 item 6.

(4) Presumably, a Chinese economic presence in Kaliningrad would pose no strategic threat to Russia and might even, to the extent that it substituted for EU and especially German investment, consolidate Russian sovereignty there.

To grasp the issue discussed in this paragraph it is advisable to consult a map.

(5) Russian Regional Report, Vol. 11, No. 10, April 14, 2006

(6) The same goes, of course, for other triangles. For a look at the Russia--China--India triangle, see RAS No. 20 item 7.




SOURCE. Hsiu-Ling Wu and Chien-Hsun Chen (Tamkang University, Taipei, Taiwan), The Prospects for Regional Economic Integration Between China and the Five Central Asian Countries, Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 56, No. 7, November 2004, pp. 1059-80

Over the past decade China's relations with Central Asia have been consolidated in various ways. Embassies, trade offices, and branches of the Xinhua news agency have been set up in all five countries. Trade volume grew from $464m in 1992 to $2,388m in 2002 and direct investment from $9m in 1992 to $80m in 2002 -- i.e., rapid growth from very low initial levels.

Kazakhstan accounts for over 80 percent of China's trade with Central Asia and half of its investment in the region. Economic interaction was facilitated by the opening in 1992 of a new rail link between Kazakhstan and Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang Province. China now accounts for 20 percent of Kazakhstan's foreign trade and 4 percent of foreign investment in the country. Kazakhstan is the only one of the Central Asian states to host offices of the Bank of China, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, and China's civil aviation agency. It is also the only one with representative offices in Urumqi (a visa office and a civil aviation office).

Most of the interaction is local or inter-regional. While trade between China and Central Asia is no longer confined to Xinjiang but also embraces other parts of northwest China, the interior, and the coastal regions, the great bulk of trade (80 percent in the case of Kazakhstan) is still with Xinjiang. A distinction must also be made between the trading operations of companies based in Urumqi, such as the Kashi Agricultural Development Company (1), and local trade in the true sense, i.e., small-scale trading between residents of border areas. Special facilities have been created for local trade, notably the market at Khorgos on the Kazakhstan-Xinjiang border. China encourages local trade for political as well as economic reasons, as a way to keep non-Han people in the border region happy and minimize separatist sentiment.

The authors analyze China's strategic goals in Central Asia. First comes maintaining security and social stability in northwest China -- primarily this means containing secessionism -- and promoting economic development there. (2) Second in importance is the role of Central Asia as a source of raw materials and especially energy for the fast-growing economy of China as a whole. (A key problem for China is the limited scale of its domestic energy resources.)

Beyond specific security and economic concerns, Central Asia has a certain geopolitical significance for China. It is a starting point for expanding China's international influence and offers the attractive prospect of a "land bridge" to Europe. It might eventually become, like southeast Asia, part of China's "near abroad." In the nearer term, Central Asia might serve as a breach in the perceived strategic encirclement of China by the US. For this purpose US influence in Central Asia would have to be reduced, but Russian influence could be accepted. Thus the region is an arena of potential cooperation as well as rivalry between Russia and China, and for so long as the US continues to be closely engaged Russian-Chinese rivalry is likely to remain latent.


(1) This trading company was established in 1997 as a subsidiary of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corporation. Despite its name, it deals in industrial as well as agricultural goods, e.g. scrap metal and electromechanical devices. In 2003 it opened a bottled water plant in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

(2) There is a long-term development plan called the Great Western Development Project.




SOURCE. Leonid Mlechin, Zachem Stalin sozdal Izrail? [Why Did Stalin Create Israel?] (Moscow: Yauza / EKSMO, 2005)

Your reaction to this book title may be similar to mine when I first spotted it in a catalogue of the MIPP book-selling company: puzzlement and suspicion. Why did Stalin create Israel? DID he create Israel? Wasn't this like asking: "When did you stop beating your wife?"

Later I decided to order the book after all. On reading it I concluded that the author was not the crackpot I had taken him for. That is not to say he is much good as a historian. He does not carefully weigh evidence in support of alternative hypotheses. He is, rather, a popular writer with a dramatic story to tell. From the confidence with which he explains Stalin's motives you would think he had telepathic insight into the late dictator's thoughts. He also has a strong emotional bias in favor of "the Jews," Zionism, and Israel.

Although these flaws are reasons to approach some of Mlechin's interpretations with due caution, they probably do not invalidate the main points in his narrative, which are backed up by fascinating documents from both Soviet and Israeli foreign ministry archives. However, if you know of any serious historical study of this early period in Soviet-Israeli relations I would like to hear from you.

Accounts I recall reading of the developments that led to the creation of Israel do make some mention of Soviet bloc support for the emergent state. Specifically, they mention that the Jewish forces in Palestine received some arms from Czechoslovakia and note that this could not have happened without Stalin's consent. But this is almost in passing, conveying the impression of a brief episode of minor significance.

From Mlechin I learned that Soviet support of Israel was extensive and multifaceted, played a vital role in Israel's emergence and survival, and continued for a number of years. Now I ask myself: how come I wasn't aware of this before? After all, I thought I knew a fair bit about both Soviet and Israeli diplomatic history. And I suspect that we have here a piece of history that has been rewritten out of recognition.

Later, of course, alignments switched to the pattern that is more familiar to us all: Israel on the Western side of the Cold War, Egypt and Syria on the Soviet side. Then all parties concerned must have found it convenient to "forget" that Israel had begun its life as a Soviet client state. Wiping the slate clean helped Israel establish its credentials as an outpost of Western civilization. It also made plausible Israel's founding myth of its War of Independence as a miraculous triumph against overwhelming odds. Arab leaders surely did not want to embarrass their new superpower patron by pointing out (in public, at any rate) its responsibility for creating the problem of the "Zionist entity" in the first place. And so on.

As Winston Smith, hero of George Orwell's 1984, reminded himself following the reassignment of enemy status from Eurasia to Eastasia: "Oceania is at war with Eastasia. Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia." (1)


Of course, surveying the full sweep of Bolshevik and Soviet history the predominant attitude to the Zionist movement is clearly one of hostility. However, signs of the possibility of a different stance were there from quite early on.

In the mid-1920s Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Cheka (secret police), circulated a series of memos in which he argued that it would be in the regime's interests to tolerate Zionist activity in Russia. If left alone the Zionists had no inclination to interfere in Russian politics; all they cared about was Palestine. Why make unnecessary enemies? As for Palestine, let the Comintern deal with it. These memos did not convince Dzerzhinsky's colleagues in either the Cheka or the party leadership, and the Zionists continued to be persecuted, though perhaps a little less thoroughly than other political opponents.

In the inter-war period representatives of the Zionist movement cultivated contacts with Soviet diplomats. (2) They made all the right noises about the common fight against British imperialism and its Arab client regimes. The responses they obtained were extremely cautious but not entirely discouraging.

In the period 1944-47 the USSR continued to avoid taking any public position in the dispute between Zionism and Arab nationalism. Soviet analysts interpreted the situation in Palestine in terms of "inter-imperialist contradictions," (3) with the US using the Zionists to push Britain out of the Middle East. The foreign policy line was that the British mandate should be terminated and replaced by a UN protectorate.

A reassessment of policy on Palestine took place in March and April 1947. On March 6 senior foreign ministry adviser Boris Shtein sent a memo to first deputy foreign minister Andrei Vyshinsky. (4) In it he argued that it was necessary to clarify the Soviet position, that a UN protectorate was impracticable, and that the USSR should support "full independence for Palestine."

The new policy in favor of the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state was unveiled at the UN on April 28 by the young Andrei Gromyko, later to be foreign minister. Exactly how and when this policy was established remain unclear. The final decision was apparently made, doubtless by Stalin himself, only shortly before the UN session.

The crucial UN vote legitimizing the creation of the State of Israel was the adoption of Resolution No. 181 on November 29, 1947. The resolution could not have obtained the required two-thirds majority without the support of both the Western and the Soviet bloc. In this sense Stalin and Truman shared the decisive role. Gromyko delivered a powerful speech in support of the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own. It won him great personal popularity in Israel. The idea was even raised of naming a street in his honor.

The importance of Soviet diplomatic support for the newborn State of Israel becomes clearer when we broaden our focus from Resolution No. 181 itself to diplomatic activity at the UN during the War of Independence and in its aftermath. At this crucial period Israel received much more consistent support from the USSR than from the US. (5) Specifically, Soviet diplomats at the UN blocked initiatives to impose a UN protectorate on Palestine, to change Israel's borders to its disadvantage, and to require Israel to allow the return of Palestinian refugees who had fled or been deported during the fighting. The author aptly observes that Stalin found nothing abnormal in ethnic cleansing. (6)

Turning from diplomacy to war, it must be noted that at this time an international embargo against the sale of arms to the Middle Easy was in force, although it was violated on both sides. To avoid open defiance of the embargo, Stalin prevailed upon Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia (7) to supply arms to the Jewish forces. The latter were also helped by gasoline deliveries from Romania.

The main airlift involved planes setting off from an airport near Bratislava in Slovakia, stopping over in southern Yugoslavia, and landing on an airfield in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, where they were met by Jewish unloading crews. Most of the pilots were American volunteers with war experience. (8)

The arms airlifted included artillery, mortars, ammunition, and disassembled old British Spitfire and captured German Messerschmidt-109 fighter planes. The following episode shows the decisive impact of these planes on the course of hostilities:

"On March 29, 1948, the Palestinian Jews unpacked and assembled the first four Messerschmidts. On the same day an Egyptian column, including tanks, was just a few dozen kilometers from Tel Aviv. There was talk of evacuating the city. If Tel Aviv were lost, all would be lost. Ben Gurion had no troops available to defend the city. He sent the only thing he had: the four planes. Only one of them returned from combat. But seeing that the Jews had aircraft the Egyptians halted and did not try to take the defenseless city (p. 173)."

But it was not just a matter of arms supplies. Perhaps of at least equal importance was military training. At the Bratislava airport Czech and Soviet instructors trained pilots for the fledgling Israeli air force. Many other Israeli military personnel received training in Czechoslovakia: tank crews, paratroops, radio and telegraph operators, electrical mechanics, medics, and some 3,500 infantry.

It seems that the author does not greatly exaggerate when he states that "the sole ally to give Israel practical help was the Soviet Union" (p. 180).

After winning its independence Israel strove to strengthen its military ties with the USSR. Besides seeking more arms, Israeli diplomats repeatedly raised the issue of sending Israeli officers to study at Soviet military academies.

Apart from diplomatic and military support for Israel, there is the murky question of cooperation between Israeli and eastern-bloc secret services. Mlechin suggests that the Soviet Union was involved in the assassination of the UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte by Zionist extremists on September 17, 1948.


There was, finally, an ideological dimension to the Soviet-Israeli alliance. The fighters who trained in Czechoslovakia attended lectures by Soviet political instructors. Some units went into battle to cries (in Russian) of "For Stalin, for Ben Gurion!" (9) It was not uncommon to see a portrait of Stalin hanging on the wall in an Israeli home. Naturally, expressions of pro-Soviet sentiment were more typical of the "left" of the Israeli political spectrum -- not only Communists but also supporters of left-Zionist parties such as Mapam.

Within the Soviet Union itself, official support for Israel led to a measure of ideological confusion as it clashed with the traditional Bolshevik designation of Zionism as an anti-Soviet ideology. Israel's first ambassador in Moscow, Golda Meir (later to become prime minister) astutely observed that the Soviet line was "pro-Israel but anti-Zionist." How could anyone not find this confusing? After all, the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine was the entire raison d'etre of the Zionist movement.

I think that the Soviet line at this time is best defined as "semi-Zionist." Stalin supported the creation of the Jewish state and he had no objection to Jews in other parts of the world identifying with Israel or emigrating there -- but he did draw the line at Soviet Jews doing likewise.

This was, in fact, the initial bone of contention when Israeli-Soviet relations began to sour in 1949. Israeli leaders were very interested in Soviet Jews as potential immigrants. They needed rapidly to increase Israel's Jewish population to fill up territory captured in the war, and -- being mainly of Russian origin themselves -- found Soviet Jews especially attractive for this purpose.

On February 7, 1949, deputy foreign minister Valerian Zorin delivered an oral warning to Ambassador Meir. He complained that the Israeli embassy was sending Soviet Jews copies of its information bulletin, containing news about the settlement in Israel of Jews from around the world. The Soviet Union considered this "illegal enlistment of [its] citizens and incitement for them to renounce Soviet citizenship." It was "inconsistent with a loyal attitude to the Soviet Union." Meir bowed to Zorin's demands; the embassy severed all its contacts with Soviet Jews. (10)

One very striking circumstance is the coincidence in time of Stalin's efforts on Israel's behalf in the sphere of foreign policy and his virulent anti-Semitic campaign at home. Both straddled the late 1940s and early 1950s. "The struggle for the creation of Israel was accompanied by a purge of Jews from the apparatus" (p. 128).

Evidently, for Stalin there was no inconsistency involved. Sponsoring a Jewish client state in the Middle East served certain geopolitical purposes: it weakened Britain's positions in the region and impeded American efforts to take Britain's place there. As for the anti-Semitic campaign, it too had a purpose: that of neutralizing a perceived security threat from an ethnic minority now regarded as unreliable.

If there was a link, it was this: the anti-Semitic campaign was (at least in part) a response to unwanted domestic effects of the pro-Israel campaign. Many Soviet Jews responded to the latter with great enthusiasm. For example, Jewish war veterans volunteered to be sent to "fight British imperialism" in Palestine. The celebrated Jewish tank general Dragunsky even wanted to form an armed formation of Soviet Jews and send it to reinforce the Zionist forces in Palestine. These proposals were not welcome. It was one thing for the Soviet state to support Israel as a matter of geopolitical calculation, and quite another for Soviet Jews to support Israel out of ethnic solidarity. The official attitude was: "WE support Israel, but we won't allow YOU to do so."

An interesting detail: the victims of Stalin's anti-Semitic campaign were accused of being "rootless cosmopolitans" or agents of the Western powers, but not of being Zionists. Anti-Semitism in the guise of anti-Zionism was a phenomenon of the post-Stalin era. At the period under discussion, Soviet patronage of Israel meant that Zionism could not be officially and unequivocally defined as an enemy.


Zorin's warning was followed by further complaints. Israeli ostensibly neutral foreign policy was shifting in a pro-US direction. Anti-Soviet propaganda was appearing in the Israeli press. (Soviet officials could not believe that a country's government might lack control over its press.)

But despite growing tension, the Soviet-Israeli relationship remained largely cooperative until late 1952. The USSR continued to support Israel at the UN. New trade agreements were signed as late as March 1952: Israel was to send fruit and receive oil products in exchange. Then three developments culminated in a definite break:

* In July 1952 Nasser's Young Officers came to power in Egypt. While no immediate effect on Soviet-Israeli relations was apparent, the emergence of an "anti-imperialist" Arab regime objectively gave the USSR an alternative option for exerting its influence in the region -- an option it was later to pursue (under Khrushchev).

* In December 1952 and January 1953 the "exposure of the doctors' plot" opened a new phase in the Soviet anti-Semitic campaign. Although the campaign did not indicate a diminished Soviet willingness to support Israel, it did make the alliance with the USSR increasingly unpalatable to Israeli public opinion.

With the doctors' plot affair, Ben Gurion decided that it was no longer politically possible to stay silent.

* On February 9, 1953 a bomb exploded on the grounds of the Soviet embassy in Tel Aviv. Three Soviet citizens were badly wounded and the building damaged. Whoever may have organized the terrorist act, Moscow insisted that the Israeli government must have been complicit in it and broke off diplomatic relations.

Did Stalin create Israel? To the extent that any one individual can be held responsible for the creation of a state, it does seem, on the basis of the evidence presented by Mlechin, that Stalin has a better claim than any other individual to this particular honor. Why did he do it? Apparently it was a gamble in the context of the more assertive Soviet foreign policy that followed victory over Nazi Germany, made in the hope of establishing a lasting Soviet presence in the Middle East. It failed, but it can be seen as a precursor of similar and more successful efforts in the post-Stalin era, this time backing the other side in the Israel-Arab conflict. It does show that the standard view of Soviet penetration of the Third World as a post-Stalin development is not quite accurate. (11)

The episode also helps us fill in a broad historical view of the nature of Zionism-Israel as an international phenomenon. What made possible the remarkable rise of the Zionist community from a small and vulnerable minority in Ottoman-ruled Palestine at the beginning of the 20th century to a nuclear-armed regional superpower in that century's last quarter? Many things, to be sure. The Holocaust had a decisive impact. But we should not underplay the significance of the Zionist movement's ideologically flexible and repeatedly successful search for great power patrons. As the relationship with one patron becomes less viable, a new patron is always found:

1. Britain with the Balfour Declaration of 1917, whose Mandate provided a roof for building an autonomous quasi-state (the Yishuv).

2. Stalin's Soviet Union played the crucial role in the creation and initial consolidation of an independent Zionist state.

3. France gave Israel nuclear weapons.

4. US support was crucial in creating a Greater Israel.

5. Next great power patron -- China, perhaps?


(1) In the world of 1984, there were three great totalitarian powers: Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia. Two of these were always at war with the third, but every so often the pattern of alignment changed.

(2) They approached Ivan Maisky, the ambassador in London, and members of the Soviet embassy in Ankara. At this time there was no Soviet diplomatic presence in Palestine.

(3) Stalinist doctrine placed great emphasis on such contradictions. It was held that they would inevitably lead to war.

(4) Better known as the state prosecutor in the great purge trials of the 1930s.

(5) President Truman was wholeheartedly pro-Israel, but the US State Department had a different attitude.

(6) In fall 1948 Dmitry Manuilsky, representative of Soviet Ukraine in the UN Security Council, suggested that the Palestinian refugees be resettled in Soviet Central Asia.

At about this time Israeli foreign minister Moshe Shertok reported to his government that "in the Security Council the Russians work not simply as our allies but as our emissaries. They assume any task" (p. 208).

(7) This was before the Stalin-Tito split.

(8) On the return flight the volunteer pilots brought back oranges. The US government threatened to deprive them of their citizenship. The planes they flew were also American.

(9) "Za Stalina, za Ben Guriona!" This was an extension of the cry "Za Stalina!" with which Soviet soldiers went into battle against the Nazis. On this point I am indebted to Marina Aptekman.

(10) When it became clear that Soviet Jews would not be allowed to go, they had to satisfy themselves with "inferior" substitutes -- that is, Jews from the Arab countriess.

(11) That depends, of course, on whether we count Palestine in the late 1940s as still being part of the Third World.




SOURCE. Institute of War and Peace Reporting (London), Reporting Central Asia, No. 438, March 10, 2006.

In the village of Orlovka, in the Chui region of Kyrgyzstan, there used to be a uranium mine. Its closure in the early 1990s led to massive unemployment in the area. But now the desperately poor local residents have found a new way to survive.

They sift through the waste dumped near the disused mine--"a moonscape of grey slag"--in search of material that they can sell to scrap merchants. There is iron and other metals, and graphite, but most valuable is silicon, which fetches $10 per kilo and ends up at electronics plants in China. About a third of the scavengers are children. Some of their teachers are there too, for they can't get by on the pittance called a salary. Injuries are frequent. Some people get buried alive when the holes they are digging cave in.

Of course, there are many such places in the "undeveloped" countries. But this one has an additional hazard. The waste is full of radioactive gas (up to 400 micro-roentgens per hour). The scavengers, bodies covered with festering sores, are dying of radiation sickness. They are fully aware of the fact, but as one man said: "Better I die of radiation than my children of hunger."

Now for a little thought experiment. Suppose these people had been rounded up at gunpoint and forced to do this work on the orders of some military junta or Islamist or "communist" dictatorship. Just imagine the furore that human rights organizations around the world would raise against the regime committing such atrocities.

But they were not rounded up at gunpoint, and no armed guards are needed to keep them at their labors. On the contrary, you would need armed guards (incorruptible ones at that) to keep them away from the dump! They are "independent market actors" or even, you might say, "entrepreneurs," physically and legally free to leave the scrap collecting business whenever they like. So no "human rights," as the term is usually understood, have been violated.

Indeed, the radioactive scavengers are lucky enough to live in Kyrgyzstan, a country that has been fulsomely praised as the "Switzerland" of Central Asia, a model "democracy" with an excellent "human rights record" -- at least by regional standards. A country that has even experienced such an exotic and magical experience as a "tulip revolution." (1) And yet they are not a whit better off for all that.

And if a team of American political scientists were suddenly to descend upon the people of Orlovka for the exalted purpose of calibrating their scale of social values, they might well discover, much to their dismay, that the poor sods do not understand the full significance of "democratic" values. Perhaps they place a higher stake on mere economic security. What would our esteemed colleagues conclude concerning their cultural immaturity?

There is, in fact, one human right that the radioactive scavengers of Orlovka lack. Without it all the other human rights are not worth very much. They do not have the right of access to the means of life. "I wanted to work on the land," another digger remarked, "but unfortunately I don't have any." Quite so. And back into the radioactive gas...


(1) For me tulips do not have a wholly positive connotation. Many years ago I liked to make wines. My dandelion wine was a great success. Then I noticed the carpet of brilliant petals that had fallen off the tulips in the flowerbeds along the Thames Embankment and gathered them up. I wanted to find out whether there could be such a thing as tulip wine. But as my tulip brew began to ferment it gave off such a disgusting stink that I had to throw it away. You can't eat or drink tulips. The same goes for tulip revolutions.



Alice Nakhimovsky points out with reference to RAS No. 34 item 11:

"There's a mistake in the orthography section: the name of the Hebrew letter adapted as Cyrillic "sh" is "shin," not "shem."

Thank you for drawing attention to the slip! "Shem" is the Hebrew word for "name."

It's no bad thing that I make a mistake now and then because it's guaranteed to get a reaction from readers. Of course, what I appreciate most of all is responses discussing matters of substance, and I wish I got more of them.


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RAS No. 35

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Stephen Shenfield

Sunday, April 16, 2006