Sunday, April 28, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Navalny Again Calls for an End to Russian Federalism

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 28 – Russian opposition leader Aleksey Navalny says that Russia does not need federalism and should become a unitary state in which cities rather than the current federal subjects would be the fundamental political link between individual Russian citizens and the Russian state.

            In an interview published in the May issue of the Russian version of “GQ” magazine, Navalny, who currently faces what many view as politically motivated criminal charges but who many believe will eventually run for president, laid out his views on this most sensitive issue (

            Navalny said that “in general [he] considers that Russia is a unitary state” and that federalism “is unnecessary” and only “interferes with” the development of the country.  “The existing subjects of the Federation” including their borders and leadership are indefensible because no one knows “from where they came or who needs them.”

            Instead, power should be given to the cities.  “Everyone shouts that if power is given to lower-level officials, then little tsars will appear and separatism will flourish.  But it isn’t necessary to give power to the governors. This isn’t going down [very far]. Down is when the major of Naberezhny Chelny has power and the president of Tatarstan has much less.”

            (The idea of a unity Russia based on regional urban agglomerations has been pushed by some within the Russian government but has been denounced by urban specialists like Aleksandr Boroznov as a step that will help Moscow but not the population. For his criticism, see as discussed at

            The non-Russian republics and predominantly ethnic Russian oblasts and krays would not be the only ones to lose power under his scheme. Navalny said that the federal government should devote its attention to ensuring that “elections are not falsified, judges are normal, and profits from the sale of oil are distributed justly and evenly.”

            Navalny’s remarks on federalism this time around are already attracting attention both positive and negative. (A Yandex search this morning found 96,000 hits.) Some who favor his ideas are doing so for the pragmatic political reason that they will be popular with some Russians, but many who oppose them, Russians and non-Russians alike, are certain to be furious.

            The opposition leader has waded into this area of controversy before, and on those occasions, Navalny’s words attracted some support at home and abroad but also withering criticism both from non-Russians who view them as a threat but from Russian experts who have been if anything even more disturbed about their consequences.

            Yevgeny Gontmakher, a leader of the Moscow Institute of Contemporary Development, argued that Navalny’s suggestions about making Russia a nation state rather than a federal and multi-national one could put the Russian Federation on the path toward a Yugoslav-style disintegration (  as discussed in

            The territory of the Russian Federation, he pointed out, includes many places where the Russian people have not lived from time immemorial but others have: “Tatars and Bashkirs, Chuvash and Mordvins, Chechens and Ingushes, Yakuts and Chukchis live on territories in which not so long ago there were no ethnic Russians at all.”

            That justified the formation of the state as a federation. Gontmakher conceded that “it is possible that it was a mistake to split the truly ethnic Russian (Slavic) lands into numerous oblasts and krays … but the presence of national republics and districts is the only chance to escape from the imperial arrangement” that Russia had earlier and still remain a single country.

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