Friday, August 1, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Now Worried about Siberian Separatism

Paul Goble


            Staunton, August 1 – Apparently now worried that the separatism it has encouraged in Ukraine will echo inside the Russian Federation, Moscow is taking steps to prevent a Siberian regionalist demonstration scheduled for August 17 including blocking as of today the organizers’ sites on VKontakte and Facebook (


            Until very recently, Moscow officials and commentators have been very dismissive of Siberian identity, regionalism, and aspirations for greater autonomy or even ultimate independence, insisting that those who speak Russian there are ethnic Russians and nothing more.


            But the events in Ukraine and Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on anything that looks like a challenge to his control of the country have prompted some in the Russian capital to suggest that what the Siberians are planning is nothing less than a Maidan within Russia that could trigger the disintegration of the country.


            Three commentaries this week approach this issue from very different perspectives, but all of them suggest that Moscow is entirely justified in being worried about this kind of challenge even if at the present moment it is not as large as some in the Russian capital fear or others there and elsewhere hope.


            The first, by Dmitry Dzygovbrodsky, on the Russian nationalist portal, is especially alarmist.  He says directly that the August 17 demonstration planned for Novosibirsk that will call for “the federalization of Siberia” is nothing more or less than “a Maidan” and “an attempt to destroy Russia” (


            He says that what is scheduled to happen in Novosibirsk is “the first careful attempt” to organize such a revolution and that it is being supported by Ukrainians from the Maidan “who have been instructed in creating disorder” and who have entered Russia as “refugees” and by the United States which is doing everything it can to defeat Moscow and destroy Russia.


            “Siberians,” the commentator says, “they want to destroy your country. The Ukrainian Nazis now hope that Maidans will begin in Russia so that Russia won’t be able to help Novorossiya and so that the Kyivan Nazis can continue without interference to kill women and children in Donetsk and Luhansk.”


            “Don’t sit on your rear ends in front of the televisions,” Siberians, “like the infantile Ukrainians who by their indifference and laziness have allowed others to kill their country … Siberians, show that you are real Russians and that you will not sell your Motherland like the lying and cowardly Kyivans.”


            The second commentary on this issue is offered by Maksim Kalashnikov on the portal. It is more temperate in its language but more sweeping in its predictions: he argues Moscow is losing the regions because it isn’t giving them enough resources and Russia’s collapse will begin on the periphery (


            Kalashnikov says that “the powers that be have not learned any lessons from the collapse of the USSR” and are now “repeating the mistakes of the elderly Politburo” times three, thinking that they can address all problems by propaganda and repression rather that dealing with them more directly.


            The third and by far the most interesting of the three is an essay by Vitaly Portnikov on the portal today.  He says that many still think that the Siberian march planned for August 17 is nothing more than “an underground action which does not have any relation to the Russian political situation” (


            But those who think so fail to recall that that is how the Donetsk Republic project looked ten years ago when it got started, the ideas of “a collection of marginal figures” who couldn’t be expected to amount to anything.  And they equally fail to recognize that the challenge of the Siberians is in many ways less than the one facing the Donetsk group.


            Unlike Ukraine which has never been anything but a unitary state, Russia is a federation, and consequently, it is not particularly hard for people to press for greater authority to be given to the regions. Indeed, Putin himself has declared that “the self-standing of the regions is a precondition for success.”


            But then the question naturally arises: “is what is good for a Ukrainian death for a Russian?” And does another: how long will Russia’s regions be willing to suffer without the funds they need as Moscow reduces them still further?  As for the non-Russian republics, the issue has been “clear for a long time.”


            Putin “has driven Russia into a logical trap,” Portnikov says. On the one hand, Putin argued before the economic crisis that a strong united country could quickly find a way out. And on the other, even without achieving that, he has chosen to “destabilize the situation in a neighboring country” at the expense of Russians at home.


             Russians watching what is going on in Ukraine “understand that all this is taking place not in Africa but literally several hours of travel away” and some of them are asking: “Why can’t they want to organize a peoples republic at home? Or do they love the local bosses with their procurators and bandits?”


            “Why is a Donets Peoples Republic a good thing, but a Siberian Peoples Republic a bad one?” Portnikov asks rhetorically. “Why is the peoples governor of Donets a hero, but the peoples governor of Novosibirsk a criminal?” “Or is Vladivostok worse than Sevastopol?”


            “Perhaps he says, Vladivostok also wants to become a subject and not an object of the Russian Federation.” Who is to say that is impossible?  “No, Vladimir Vladimirovich,” Portnikov says, “thanks to you now everything is possible. And even more.”

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