Saturday, March 22, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Could Annexation of Crimea Lead to a New Federal District or Even a New Name for Russia?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 22 – Like a rock thrown into a pond, Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea is leading to an ever-widening set of waves, some of them which the Kremlin clearly intended but at least some of which the Russian leader did not anticipate and about which he may be quite angry.

            Two of the more intriguing of the latter have emerged in the last 24 hours, including a new petition drive in Siberia urging that the Russian Federation be renamed the “Rusian Union” (“rusky soyuz”) and a discussion of where to put Crimea in the system of federal districts that Putin has used to run the country.

            The first of these is unlikely to achieve its goal, but it is a reminder that the Kremlin, despite its increasingly authoritarian approach to society and especially the media, cannot control all the messages that at least some of those to whom Russian propaganda is directed and that the Crimean adventure may prove to be one of these.

            But the second reflects a real problem – or perhaps an opportunity. If Putin is to maintain his vaunted “power vertical,” the new federal subjects of Crimea and Sebastopol have to be put in one or another federal district, either an existing one or a new one just for the two of them. Their absorption into the Russian Federation could become the occasion for changing the borders of the controversial North Caucasus Federal District.

            In any case, there will be some Russian nationalists especially in Stavropol kray, but not only there, who are likely to step up their campaign about that, thereby further exacerbating the situation Moscow faces in the North Caucasus and possibly sparking more complaints from both Russians and non-Russians about what Moscow is doing there.

            Given such possibilities – and there are as yet no certainties in this fluid situation – such developments bear close watching.

            On Thursday, reported that the Siberia-based Assembly of Rus of the Glorious Slavs had started a petition drive on to rename the Russian Federation as part of an effort at “consolidation ‘of ‘truly Rusian forces who are ready to build and struggle for Rus not to increase their poll numbers but for the rebirth and flourishing of the people” (

            The petition also calls for “the defense of the Rusian language” and “the support of the image and rating of the authorities but in a real way for the restoration of legal and historical justice!”  To that end, it stresses that the country should henceforth be named the “Rusky Sobor” with Russian having only one “s” as Vladimir Dal’s dictionary requires.

            Aleksandr Budnikov, the leader of the group behind this petition says that he and his colleagues “do not count on a positive reaction by the party and the authorities for understandable reasons, but we hope that ‘Rusky Soyuz’ will give a positive impulse to popular unification” and underscore how much has changed after the annexation of Crimea.

            (It may be significant in the minds of some that in its report of this drive, the Globalsib news agency illustrated its story with a reproduction of Konstantin Gorbatov’s painting, “The Invisible City of Kitezh.”)

            The issue of where to put Crimea and Sevastopol in the federal district system, however, is not something that the Kremlin can ignore for very long if it wants to integrate those two new federal subjects.  And that makes a discussion by Aleksandra Samarina in yesterday’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta” more directly important (

            Samarina, a journalist at the Moscow paper, says that the Institute of National Strategy has prepared a report which argues that “the best form for the administration of the peninsula would be the formation on its territory of a [new] federal district, with a flexible policy regarding the two regions, Sevastopol and Crimea.”

            The report says that Moscow faces many “risks” as it moves to incorporate the peninsula and notes that “the creation on its territory of a provisional federal district for the two [new] subjects” is something that can help the Russian authorities address “the most serious problem” they currently face there: the setting up of an effective local government.

            But calling it a “provisional” federal district, the report opens the door to the discussion of the federal district system as a whole or at least in the adjoining area of the North Caucasus where many oppose the continued inclusion of still predominantly ethnic Russian Stavropol kray in the federal district there.    

            After enumerating various administrative and political problems that the Russian authorities now face, the report’s authors say that a major challenge involves what to do with the Crimean Tatars and their opposition to Moscow.

            The authors say that “the Mejis controls the Tatar community. Not completely but essentially: According to experts about 60 percent.”  Undoubtedly this is an organization which will play an anti-Russian card” with the support of the US and Turkey. And Moscow should expect the Mejlis to expand its “information and psychological war” against Moscow.

            To counter that, the report says, Russia must “find players among the Crimean Tatars” who are prepared to work with Russia, even as it elbows aside those like Mustafa Cemilev and other Mejlis officials – yet another indication that the Kremlin’s ethnicization of politics in Crimea and elsewhere is going to increase conflicts.

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