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Pavel Felgenhauer and Novaya Gazeta

Pavel Felgenhauer. Photo: Jewish Community Centre in Moscow

Pavel Felgenhauer, born in 1951 in Moscow, is a well-known independent defense analyst who regularly writes for the Moscow Times, the opposition Novaya Gazeta, and the Eurasia Daily Monitor, and is a frequent guest on the Ekho Moskvy radio station. Felgenhauer, who holds a PhD in biology, explained his unlikely career as a military analyst in an interview given in 2005:

"I am a biologist by training. For a long time I was working in the field of molecular biology. But from my student years I always wanted to understand how and why armed conflicts develop, what national armies and military alliances are, how their alignment is influenced by politics and how they, in turn, influence the international climate. When the Soviet Union broke apart and, all of a sudden, politics stormed into everyone's lives, I turned my hobby into a profession. I am often asked how I, a biologist, could suddenly become a military analyst. I usually reply: 'To dissect a frog, do you have to be a frog yourself?' Is it not known that a view from the outside is always more balanced?"[47]

Felgenhauer has written extensively on the conflict over Georgia's breakaway republics, warning against the possibility of war years in advance of the August 2008 events. In 2006, he described Russia's confrontation with Tbilisi over South Ossetia as a "lethal folly," arguing that fighting in South Ossetia could "spill over into the North Caucasus, undermining pro-Moscow rulers in Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Ossetia. The Islamist insurgents in the North Caucasus could use this opportunity to cause even more trouble."[48]

In the spring and summer of 2009, Felgenhauer was widely cited in the Western media as saying that Russia was "preparing the ground for a new war against Georgia with the goal of overturning the [Saakashvili] regime"[49] and that the risk of renewed hostilities was high. Several months later, however, he wrote:

"This summer the situation in Georgia hovered around a possible renewed full-scale war, but now the risk is minimal. Abnormally early heavy snowfalls in the Caucasus have already virtually cut off South Ossetia from Russia by snow-drifts (RIA Novosti, September 28). Essential supplies for the reconstruction of South Ossetia are not being delivered. It will be a harsh winter for the occupying Russian soldiers and the remaining civilian population of South Ossetia, while the border with Georgia is closed and access to Russia impeded until spring 2010. Any major Russian military action is virtually impossible until next April, when the threat of a new war will reappear, if no diplomatic progress is made in the meantime. Profound differences continue to separate Russia, Georgia and the West, making progress difficult."[50]

In November 2009, Pavel Felgenhauer also commented on the draft of the new Russian military doctrine, which proposed allowing the use of nuclear weapons, including preemptive strikes:

"Since a potential nuclear war, be it with NATO in the West or with China in the East, can lead to the guaranteed destruction of Russia itself, the idea of a 'preemptive nuclear strike' makes the unprepared public shudder. In addition, according to Patrushev [head of Russian Security Council], the new doctrine confirms the 'shift in focus away from large-scale military conflicts to local wars and armed conflicts.' The list of potential threats includes, along with the traditional threat of NATO enlargement, potential claims to the yet unexplored 'energy and other raw material resources' of the Arctic region, Japanese territorial claims to the Kuril Islands, etc. This means that our superiors are potentially ready to burn all of us in nuclear fire because of disputes over ice, rocks or South Ossetia."[51]

In Felgenhauer's view, Russia's military ambitions do not square with the reality on the ground:

"Russia has inherited from the USSR a strategic nuclear potential developed during a Cold War era of global confrontation. But today's Russian Federation is merely a large regional power whose real sphere of influence and interests does not extend far beyond the CIS – and even in that area Russia finds it difficult to dominate. The ongoing radical military reform liquidates for good the mass Soviet multi-million army of reservists and creates brigades deployed in peacetime. These armed forces, without a doubt, are designed for solving local conflicts over pipelines and the 'energy and other raw material resources' which provide the basis of existence of our ruling class. But until the reformed armed forces are actually created, one is left to rely on nuclear weapons."[52]


[47] Jewish Community Centre in Moscow, "Interview with Pavel Felgenhauer" (in Russian), 26 July 2005.

[48] Pavel Felgenhauer, "The Kadyrovtsy: Moscow's New Pawns in the South Caucasus?", North Caucasus Analysis, vol. 1, issue 24, 14 June 2006.

[49] Stuart Williams, "Russia warns of force if more Georgia 'provocations'", AFP, 1 August 2009.

[50] Pavel Felgenhauer, "Danger Recedes of New Conflict in the South Caucasus," Eurasia Daily Monitor, vol. 6, issue 180, 1 October 2009.

[51] Pavel Felgenhauer, "Paper Tigers with Nuclear Weapons" (in Russian), Novaya Gazeta, 23 November 2009.

[52] Pavel Felgenhauer, "Paper Tigers with Nuclear Weapons" (in Russian), Novaya Gazeta, 23 November 2009.

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