Sunday, June 5, 2016

With Crimean Anschluss, Putin Made Emergence of ‘Russian Civic Nation’ Unlikely, Moscow Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 5 – Vladimir Putin’s authoritarianism made the possibility of a civic as opposed to ethnic Russian nation far more difficult, Pavel Luzin says; but the Kremlin leader’s seizure of Crimea has made it almost impossible further complicating relations between the ethnic Russians and non-Russians in the Russian Federation.

            On the Rufabula portal, the Moscow commentator argue the seizure of Crimea and “’the Crimean syndrome’” which has followed is exerting enormous “influence on state policy toward the peoples living in Russia” and called into question the Kremlin’s effort to create a civic nation from above by “bureaucratic” means (

            Until 2012, he writes, Moscow’s approach reflected a series of political “compromises” between the Soviet past and Russian aspirations that included “the preservation of the Soviet inheritance” in which some peoples had republics but without the right of secession, others had cultural autonomy, and the Russian ethnos had the “unifying” role in the political system.

            This compromise, “which was water with blood in the North Caucasus,” Luzin argues, not only was reflected in the language of the 1993 Russian Constitution but also in the State Nationality Policy Concept adopted three years later (

            According to the political analyst, this conceptual framework “required from the Russian authorities only one thing – the elaboration of effective democratic institutions and a market economy,” steps that were needed to prevent Russia from suffering the fate of Georgia and Yugoslavia.

            However, under Putin, the government did not move in the direction of democracy and free markets. Instead, it “ascribed to itself the functions of a moderator of ‘a multi-national people,’” buying the loyalty of local elites, using various administrative measures for control, and even “liquidating six autonomous districts under the pretext of their economic weakness.”

            “Such an approach seemed simpler and tactically effective” at the time, Luzin argues; but it had consequences because it meant that the state did not commit itself to the development of democratic institutions and free markets that there the only possible basis for the emergence of a Russian “civic” nation, one not based on ethnic considerations.

            When Putin returned to the presidency in 2012, it had become obvious that “the idea of a single ‘multi-national people’ had ceased to work, and more precisely that Moscow was losing the ability to place the role of moderator of inter-ethnic (and this means inter-regional) relationships in Russia.”

            Indeed, the system Putin had created exacerbated relationships among peoples and regions by creating a political system in which ethnic and regional elites had to compete with each other for access to federal largesse and preferences, something that made the very idea of a single people problematic.

            Consequently, “for the preservation of political stability,” Luzhin says, “the Kremlin had to take up in a serious way the problem of the lack of a civic nation in Russia.”

            An ideological program for “the transformation of ‘the multi-national people’ into a civic nation was formulated in the Strategy of State Nationality Policy of Russia up to 2025 ( that was adopted in December 2012. 

            There, “for the first time” at an official document appeared the term “’Rossiiskaya natsiya’” or civic Russian nation and the creation of “an all-Russian civic consciousness” was declared to be “among the chief goals along with the strengthening of the unity and integrity of the country.”

            But even then, part of the older compromise remained: there was still language about “the special role of the Russian ethnos in the history of the country” and there was advanced “a metaphysical idea about a certain ‘unified cultural (civilizational) code,’ which bound together the foundations of the Russian state.”

            In 2013, a seven-year federal program for strengthening the civic Russian nation was adopted, and experts close to the Kremlin began to talk about “the complete liquidation of republics within the country.” Among the steps were the stripping of the leaders of these republics of their presidential titles.

            But what the program did not do was call for “the corresponding modernization of political and economic institutions” that most had earlier concluded would be needed for a civic nation to arise. Instead, this “civic nation, in the minds of the Kremlin should be formed around the existing authoritarian system,” something that led to “a bet” on archaic traditionalism.

            But the situation for the Kremlin in this regard became far worse with the Anschluss of Crimea. While it did generate a kind of consolidation of all Russian citizens around the government in the short term, “it encountered the resistance of the Crimean Tatars” and forced Putin to again talk about rehabilitating repressed peoples.

            Prior to the Russian annexation, Luzin writes, “the Autonomous Republic of Crimea despite all the weakness of the political and economic institutions of Ukraine on the whole strengthened the status quo – all the peoples living there had the right to cultural autonomy but no one created a separate state on the basis of ethnicity.”

            “However, after the annexation, which occurred under slogans about the return of local Russians into their native state, a line was crossed and the issue about statehood for the Crimean Tatars arose with new force. By custom, the Kremlin responded with repressions but up to now doesn’t know how to resolve the problem.”

            “For Moscow, the problem became more serious because the issue of national self-determination of the Crimean Tatars was raised against it.  The last time on the post-Soviet space such an issue was raised was by the Chechens under Dzhokhar Dudayev more than 20 years ago.”

            “Self-determination against the Kremlin’s will is an infringement on its power within Russia and its influence on the post-Soviet space,” Luzin says, “and in carrying out repressions against the Crimean Tatars, the Russian authorities are sincerely convinced that they are avoiding a still greater evil.”

            That is because by annexing Crimea, something most countries have not recognized as legitimate, Moscow has transformed Russia “into a country “whose borders are recognized only in part” (stress added) and that has obvious consequences for all the other peoples of the Russian Federation.

            The Kremlin tried to back away from some of the implications of this by dropping any reference to the possible restoration of a German autonomy, but “the Crimean trap had probably slammed shut” and the Kremlin couldn’t decide how to proceed in Crimea or how to move to “unify the system of regions and liquidate republics” within the Russian Federation.

            As a result, the Russian state has had to return to “the already ineffective tactic of supporting the [earlier] compromise.”  But it can do so only if Putin serves as the anchor of the system because of “the absence of civic solidarity” independent of him – and even that may not work for long unless and until Moscow radically decentralizes something he opposes.

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