Staunton, October 6 – Two events this week highlight something that often passes unnoticed: some of Russia’s smallest nationalities have far more influence on and ability to extract resources from Moscow than do their larger counterparts, the result of their strategic location and ability to cause problems for the Russian military and some major companies.
The first of these was the confirmation by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of a list of 39 numerically small peoples of the North whose members have the right to pensions far earlier than most other Russian, 55 for men and 50 for women (government.ru/docs/19925/ and tass.ru/obschestvo/2316778).
Most of these groups are very small, and many of them are unknown to most Russians. But they occupy an enormous swath of territory from Finland in the west to Chukotka in the east, an area of increasing importance to Moscow both for security and for economic development. As a result, they are getting benefits others do not.
The other of these events was even more indicative of the influence of these groups even on people who generally have little sympathy for non-Russians. It was Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin’s call for the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs to reverse the slide in state financing of the social needs of these nationalities (ria.ru/society/20151005/1297091816.html).
The numerically small peoples of the Russian extreme north have been hit hard as have other Russians by cutbacks in government funding as a result of the economic crisis, but it is striking that Rogozin, a committed Russian nationalist, is speaking out now in favor of increasing spending on these numerically small reasons.
But it is not surprising: Rogozin has supervisory responsibilities for Russian government activities in the Far North, and he is certainly aware of the risks Moscow runs if it offends peoples whose members have guns because they live by hunting and who many in Moscow fear might turn them against Russian institutions or firms at some point.
That possibility was famously explored in Russian émigré Edward Topol’s 1986 novel, “Red Snow,” about the revolt of one of these numerically small peoples against Moscow’s control.