Staunton, September 1 – Yevgeny Buyanin, head of the Buryat section of Russia’s Rodina Party, has launched a petition drive to collect 100,000 signatures that calls on Vladimir Putin to combine Buryatia, Irkutsk Oblast and the Transbaikal Kray into a single Baikal Republic with Russian and Buryat as its official languages.
The petition, on the change.org portal, declares that “We, the residents [of the three federal subjects] ask You [the president of Russia] to unite [the three] into a new subject of the Rusian Federation – the Baikal Republic, and we ask that the state languages of the new region be Russian and Buryat” (infpol.ru/news/society/118543-ulan-udenets-prosit-putina-sozdat-baykalskuyu-respubliku/).
Buyanin says that having been united, “the three Baikal regions will be able to develop economically and socially more effectively and to defend their interests at the federal level.” The move, he adds, would reduce the number of bureaucrats and thus free up money for social needs which in Buryatia in particular are not being met.
He said that he had come up with this idea long ago but only now was seeking to push it forward via a petition. He may have been encouraged by recent discussions about shifting Buryatia from the Siberian to the Far Eastern Federal District and about combining Buryatia and Irkutsk oblast.
It is far from clear how many signatures Buyanin’s petition will garner or what would happen even if a sizeable number of people sign it. That is because it has pluses and minuses for Buryatia, for the two predominantly Russian federal subjects and for the Russian Federation and Putin personally.
For Buryatia, the minuses and pluses are obvious. On the minus side, such a move would eliminate the national republic and thus leave Buryats without the focus and support they have had, however minimal, up to now. On the plus side, it would deal with Buryat anger about the loss of the two Buryat districts to the others and would extend the reach of the national language.
For the Russian regions, the minuses and pluses are also quite evident. It would cost them their individual governments and force them at least on paper to give more support to the Buryat language. But on the other, such a move would create a far more powerful region, one that could use its location around Baikal to pressure Moscow more effectively than at present.
And for the Russian Federation and Putin personally, such a move would also have a mixed set of consequences. It could restart Putin’s long-stalled effort at amalgamation of non-Russian areas with Russian ones, but it could create a monster region that would be better able to defend its interests against Moscow.