Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Most Dangerous Provocation: Moscow Sees Separatism Where It Isn’t and Blames West

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 6 – Because the Russian Federation still has many aspects of an empire, there are people inside its borders who would like to gain independence by seceding from that country. But Moscow is compounding the problem for itself as well as for others by seeing separatism where it isn’t and then blaming the West.

            On the one hand, by identifying as separatist statements and events that various non-Russians (and some Russians too) are linked to, Russian officials at the center are only encouraging those involved to view these things in the same way, thus increasing rather than decreasing the amount of real separatism in Russia today.

            And on the other – and this is far more important – by denouncing as separatist and foreign-linked things that aren’t, Moscow is sending a message that officials at all levels should seek to homogenize society by harassing or jailing those involved thereby reducing still further the diversity in Russia on which its future depends.

            The latest example of this unfortunate tendency is an article by Ruslan Gorevoy on the “Versiya” portal in which he cites various examples in an effort to prove his contention that Russia faces another parade of sovereignties and that it is moving along the road that led to the disintegration of the USSR (versia.ru/rossijskie-regiony-k-paradu-suverenitetov-gotovy).

                It is symptomatic of such articles that this Moscow commentator begins his not with a discussion of the real world but rather with a review of a dystopian novel published six years ago by two former GRU officers who suggested that by 2014 Russia would not exist and in its place there would be ten states, the largest of which would be the Urals Republic.

            While he then cites the alarmist words of former FSB chief Nikolay Kovalyev who now serves on the Duma’s security committee, Gorevoy seeks to present himself as entirely objective by suggesting that some of the references to separatism strike him as examples of stupidity rather than close and realistic analysis.

            Thus, he says, suggestions that Sakha is introducing “anti-Russian apartheid” now that it has declared the Sakha as the only indigenous people of that republic are over the top in “presenting ethnic Russians and Chukchis as Negros without rights.” (On the Sakha decision, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2016/10/sakha-constitutional-court-rules-all.html.) 

            But then, instead of treating this Sakha decision as entirely understandable, Gorevoy attacks it as “an example of how our regional politicians, infected with the bacillus of local nationalism are shifting reality beyond what federal legislation allows.” And they are doing so without enough attention from the center.

            He gives as another example of incipient separatism a conflict that arose in Buryatia over whether to put a statue of a Russian Cossack or a Buryat hero in a museum yard, a fight not over whether Buryatia should be part of the Russian Federation but over what is appropriate in a museum devoted to a particular nation.

He then focuses on the rise of what he suggests is on its way to becoming a national army in Tuva given that Moscow now allows most draftees to serve near their homes rather than being sent almost anywhere else as was the practice in Soviet times and given that Tuvans think they should have an army if Chechnya does.

             And Gorevoy devotes enormous space to a Pomor activist who has been sentenced for extremism only because he views the Pomors as a separate and distinct people who speak a separate and distinct language and because – and this is what seems to be most important for Gorevoy – he has been the recipient of foreign grants.

            The Moscow commentator is especially anxious to link all these so-called “separatist” actions to the West. He notes that Randy Schoeneman, an aide to US Senator John McCain, suggested in 2008 that since Moscow had recognized Abkhazia and South Osetia as independent countries, the US should counter by recognizing Chechnya, Daghestan, Ingushetia, and others.

            And he cites as an authority, retired FSB colonel and Donbass fighter Igor Strelkov as having concluded that the West is now orchestrating another “parade of sovereignties” in Russia.  According to Strelkov, he served in an FSB office between 2006 and 2013 that focused on blocking threats to Russian sovereignty including regional separatism.

            That office identified many such threats, but unfortunately, Strelkov continues, the Russian leadership did not react as it should have to such challenges. It only paid attention to the threat in Bashkortostan, he says, when Moscow was concerned about who would own the oil industry there.

            In extravagant language, Strelkov says that George Soros is behind all these efforts and is especially active in promoting an independent Urals Republic; and Gorevoy adds that the “intellectual leader” of all this is Aleksandr Etkind, a Russian philosopher now teaching in Florence, Italy.

            The “Versiya” author says that it is no surprise that Etkind is getting big grants and that he is following the lead of such Russian opposition figures as Gary Kasparov who said not long ago: “The Soviet Union fell apart and nothing terrible happened.”  According to Gorevoy, such people think that it should be Russia’s turn now.

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