Thursday, November 1, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Non-Russians Block Kremlin on Regional Amalgamation and ‘Russian Dominance’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 1 – Representatives of the non-Russian republics of the Russian Federation, under the leadership of Tatarstan, this week spoke out against the Kremlin’s plans to restart Vladimir Putin’s regional amalgamation program and to legally institutionalize “Russian cultural dominance” in the country.

            At a meeting of the working group preparing the Nationality Policy Strategy document on Monday, they blocked the Kremlin on both points, and as a result, the draft that emerged is “a paper monster,” whose impact will depend on whether the Russian government will fund it, according to Moscow commentator Oleg Gorbunov (

            While the non-Russians appear to have taken the lead in blocking the inclusion of language calling for state support of Russian cultural “dominance,” the writer suggests, they were joined by representatives of predominantly ethnic Russian regions in opposing a restart for Vladimir Putin’s regional amalgamation plans.

            Those plans, launched in Putin’s first term, were quietly put on hold when Dmitry Medvedev was president.  And as a result, Gorbunov says, “the formation of the federal districts which informally unite subjects of the Federation into macro-districts did not reach its logical conclusion” in terms of intra-state borders.

             One of the reasons for this outcome, he notes, is that wealthy regions did not want to be weighted down by poorer ones. But another is that with the restoration of elections for regional heads, the latter “understood that they are becoming ever more independent from the center on the political plane.”

            That is especially the case in non-Russian regions in the Middle Volga and the North Caucasus, Gorbunov writes, and “their elites fear that amalgamation would lead to attempts to take from them their special national status” and that its loss would lead to a change in their “budgetary relations with the center.”

            Thus, the commentator concludes, with this document, “the federal center has not been able to resolve its main task” but instead has been limited to “the preservation of the current unstable balance among the various nationalities,” with neither the non-Russians nor the Russian nationalists getting the kind of support they want.

            The Kremlin “bureaucrats,” he writes, “prefer to move back and forth among various ideological trends, not giving any one of them priority” for long.  But “the growth of national self-consciousness of ‘the generation of the 1990s’ in the national republics is leading to the radicalization of the general political situation … and to the appearance of local but still unregistered ethno-national parties.”

                This factor is manifesting itself in public only “from time to time” now, Gorbunov observes, but “already by the next parliamentary elections in 2016, it could become a factor of the political struggle” that the Kremlin will have no choice but to take even more seriously than it does now.

                But there are reasons to believe the situation may heat up far sooner than that.  Today’s “Izvestiya” reports that Duma deputy Aleksey Zhuravlev has called for the development of a “treaty” among all the nationalities living in Russia and its adoption by a country-wide referendum (

            The preparation of such a document after the approval of the Nationalities Policy Strategy document by Vladimir Putin in December in itself would spark more debates about the direction the country should take and a referendum would almost certainly exacerbate the situation still further.

            In addition to the ideas mentioned above, this debate, “Izvestiya” suggests, would include controversies over whether to prevent any reference to ethnicity in media reporting about crime and migration, the restoration of the nationality line in Russian passports, and the creation of a Ministry for Nationality Affairs and the establishment of a plenipotentiary for nationality issues.

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