Russia and ex-Soviet Union (English)
Ukraine & Egypt: A tale of two coups
Written by Eric Walberg Эрик Вальберг/ Уолберг إيريك ولبر    Monday, 03 March 2014 08:28    PDF Print E-mail

US plans for Egypt and Ukraine are falling apart and Russia is scrambling to pick up the pieces.

In the latest color revolution, it was not an army but a rump parliament that pulled the plug on the elected president on a wave of protest, pushing out Ukraine’s Viktor Yanukovich on 22 February. He apologized from exile in the Russian city of Rostov-on-the-Don for his weakness during the uprising, but his fate was sealed when he was disowned by his own Party of the Regions, the largest party in the fractious parliament. The rump parliament unsurprisingly ordered the release of Yanukovich’s arch rival, ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko from prison, a condition for Ukraine’s signing a European Union Association Agreement.

The collapse of authority in Ukraine led to what appears to be the breakaway of an already autonomous Crimea, now to be aligned with Russia. The frigate Hetman Sahaydachniy (the flagship of the Ukrainian Navy), on NATO maneuvers in the Gulf of Aden, refused to take orders from Kiev and raised the Russian naval flag as it returned to Simferopol. Simultaneously, Russian troops blocked three Crimean bases, demanding Ukrainian forces surrender. Residents have announced they are going to hold a referendum on 30 March to determine the fate of Crimea.

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Russian and the Middle East
Written by Eric Walberg Эрик Вальберг/ Уолберг إيريك ولبر    Thursday, 07 November 2013 20:19    PDF Print E-mail

In the days of the Russian empire, Russia’s relations with the Islamic world were very different from the West’s, being defined by Russia’s own imperial expansionist logic. The Kazan khanate was already conquered by Russia by the sixteenth century. With the decline of the Safavid dynasty in Persia in the eighteenth century, Russia was able to easily move in and occupy Azerbaijan, Dagestan, the Kazakh steppe, and finally Turkestan (present-day Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan). Crimea was seized from the Ottomans at that time as well. The Caucasus tribes were more resistant, and it was not till the mid-nineteenth century that they were quelled.

Afghanistan became Russia’s southern flank, and British-Russian imperial rivalry there prompted Britain to initiate two wars in attempts to subdue Afghanistan in the nineteenth century to keep Russia at bay, finally allowing the British to control Afghanistan’s foreign affairs. Just to make sure, the British signed a treaty with the Russians on the northern boundary in 1887 (no need to worry about the amir).

Under the influence of British-Russian intrigues, from the 1890s on, both Central Asia and Afghanistan modernized somewhat. Muslims were by then a significant part of the Russian empire, but were treated brutally. When the Russian revolution happened in 1917, even the atheist communists looked good in comparison. And indeed, after a few decades of repression of all religions, the fruits of socialism came to Soviet Muslims and Christians alike, with economic well-being far exceeding that of the Muslim world under the imperialist yoke.

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Review of "Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956"
Written by Eric Walberg Эрик Вальберг إيريك ولبر    Sunday, 13 January 2013 21:41    PDF Print E-mail

Review of Anne Applebaum, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956, USA: Doubleday, 2012.

The period following WWII in eastern Europe is considered to be a black one, best forgotten. All the pre-war governments had been quasi-fascist dictatorships which either succumbed to the Nazi onslaught (Poland) or actively cooperated with the Germans (Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria). The Soviet liberation was greeted with trepidation by many – with good reason for the many collaborators. Within a few years of liberation, eastern Europe was ruled by austere regimes headed by little Stalins.

As in France and Italy, women who consorted with the Germans were treated with contempt. There was a rash of rape as millions of Soviet soldiers filled the vacuum left before the post-war occupation structures were established.* The Soviet soldiers had been motivated by an intense hatred of the Nazis, and their revenge was worse than that of the American, British etc soldiers, almost none of whom had lost their loved ones and homes or had faced invasion of their homelands. The chaos did considerable damage to post-war relations and soured the prospect of building socialism to many who otherwise would have given the new order that was imposed on them a chance. 'Imposed' is certainly the operational word, as the Soviets gave security and policing to their local communist allies.

As in all wars, there were no winners (except those lucky soldiers who emerged unscathed with lots of booty). The east European communists had been decimated by Stalin's pre-war purges. The liberal and rightwing forces were persecuted. War does not discriminate between good and bad property. As in all upheavals, farsighted bad guys step forward, play along on the winning side, and reap their rewards.

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Russia in the Middle East: Return of a superpower?
Written by Eric Walberg    Wednesday, 15 August 2012 21:29    PDF Print E-mail

The US "withdrawal" from Iraq last year and the planned "withdrawal" from Afghanistan in 2014 cannot help but change the face of Central Asia and the Middle East. But how does Russia fit in, asks Eric Walberg

The world is living through a veritable slow-motion earthquake. If things go according to plan, the US obsession with Afghanistan and Iraq will soon be one of those ugly historical disfigurements that -- at least for most Americans -- will disappear into the memory hole.

Like Nixon and Vietnam, US President Barack Obama will be remembered as the president who "brought the troops home". But one cannot help but notice the careful calibration of these moves to fit the US domestic political machine -- the Iraqi move to show Americans that things on the international front are improving (just don't mention Guantanamo), the Afghan move put off conveniently till President Barack Obama's second term, when he doesn't need to worry about the fallout electorally if things unravel (which they surely will).

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Russia’s White Revolution
Written by Eric Walberg    Thursday, 09 February 2012 02:46    PDF Print E-mail

All the meticulous plotting to avoid Ukraine’s Orange Revolution resulted in -- Russia’s very own coloured one. But Russia is not Ukraine, discovers Eric Walberg

Russia’s electoral scene has been transformed in the past two months, without a doubt inspired by the political winds from the Middle East and the earlier colour revolutions in Russia’s “near abroad”. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s casual return to the presidential scene was greeted as an effrontery by an electorate who want to move on from Russia’s political strongman tradition, and to inject the electoral process with ballot-box accountability.

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From Russia & Ex Soviet Union

Eric Walberg


'Connect with Eric on Facebook or Twitter'

Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.