Thursday, June 6, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russians Must Again Be ‘Elder Brothers’ to Non-Russians, Military Paper Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 6 – To prevent the loss of the North Caucasus and the further disintegration of the Russian Federation, Russians have “only one bloodless way out: to become stronger by reclaiming for themselves” the role of “’the elder brother’” who can not only “feed ‘the younger brothers’” but when necessary demand their ”surrender.”

            In the current issue of the influential “Voyenno-Promyshlenny kur’yer,” Roman Ilyushchenko reaches this conclusion on the basis of an analysis of why the idea of getting rid of the North Caucasus has gained so much support among ethnic Russians and of why that would be a disaster for the country (

            But in making that argument, the military commentator fails to point out that it was precisely that Soviet-era attitude that helped shape the non-Russian national movements and hasten the end of the USSR and that, if it is restored, could have the same effect among the non-Russian communities in the Russian Federation now.

            Significantly titled “The Phenomenon of [Ethnic] Russian Separatism,” Ilyushchenko’s article focuses on the increasingly frequent calls by Russian activists to “stop feeding the Caucasus,” an idea that it suggests is not only absurd but extremely dangerous because 84 percent of all the federal subjects get more money from Moscow than they send in.

            “If one follows the logic of such ‘applied patriotism,’” Ilyushchenko continues, then why not get rid of Tuva or Kamchatka as well? Why should Russians continue to fund these distant places.  But no one is talking about that, he points out, however rigorously logical that might follow a decision to allow the North Caucasus to go its own way.

            Unfortunately, the military commentator continues, there have been cases when Russia has given up its territories, such as what Ilyushchenko sees as the unfortunate sale of Alaska to the United States. But he notes “the initators of such destructive processes were either the authorities themselves or the population of the national borderland, but not the Russian people.”

            At least until now.  Has something fundamentally changed?  Today, “the authorities are constantly declaring about the unity and indivisibility of Russia [given that] separatist attitudes on eh borderlands of the country have been in practice suppressed,” but “the state-forming Russian people itself is demanding the separation of the Caucasus from Russia.”

            Clearly, Russians are not prepared to give up lands elsewhere as witness their reaction to any suggestion that the Kuriles be given to Japan, Kaliningrad to Germany, or border territories to Finland or the Baltic countries. “No one intends to give up [these places and] this is completely natural and normal.”

            According to Ilyushchenko, it also reflects an understanding that any such transfers could undermine the state: “We remember how the transfer of Souther Sakhalin and the Kuriles to Japan by the Portsmouth Treaty of 1905 seriously undermined the trust of the people in the tsarist government.”

            “Alas,” the military commentator says, today, “the supporters of a radical resolution of the question, the separation of the Caucasus from Russia, according to the assessments of various sources, are several times more numerous than those speaking out on behalf of [Russia’s] unity and indivisibility.”

            And it is also striking, Ilyushchenko says, that these advocates include people across the entire political spectrum from liberals like Emil Pain to conservatives like Yegor Kholmogorov. Despite their disagreements about almost everything else, they agree on this – and also with the leaders of anti-Russian bandformations in the North Caucasus.

            The “key” to understanding what is going on, the military commentator suggests, is that it reflects the false view of some Russians that if they just take one or another step, including giving up territory, then everthing will work out from then on.  That explains why Russians reacted as they did to 1991, and it explains why some want to give up the North Caucasus now.

            But there is no guarantee that things will work out the way these people hope, and “no one intends to give such a guarantee” or ensure there won’t be new border and migration problems. Instead, Ilyushchenko says, those who play on such hopes are only seeking ways to generate dissatisfaction among the population and stimulate protest attitudes.

            According to Ilyushchenko, it is the Russian mass media which is serving as a megaphone for such mistaken views by promoting hatred of the people of the Caucasus and thus as an unwitting ally of those in that region and in Western capitals who want to further weaken Russia.

            “It is necessary to recognize,” he says, “that the centrifugal processes in post-Soviet society, even as they have acquired new forms, have not been overcome and the lessons of history have not been learned.” If Russia is to avoid new disasters, Ilyushchenko says, it must assimilate those lessons both fully and quickly.

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