Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Support for a Urals Republic Remains but For a Different Purpose than in 1993, Kirillova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 10 – Those who pushed for the formation of a Urals Republic in the early 1990s did so because they objected to their region having fewer constitutional rights than the non-Russian republics; those who still think on those llines have a more immediate political goal: challenging Moscow’s foreign policies which take money away from the Russian people.

            That is the judgment of US-based Russian journalist Kseniya Kirillova as presented in an article today on the AfterEmpire portal, and she says that just like two decades ago, Moscow is more worried about such “separatism” in predominantly Russian regions than in the non-Russian republics (afterempire.info/2017/01/10/ural-republic/).

            And that greater concern in Moscow explains not only why the Kremlin cracked down so harshly on the Urals Republic in 1993 but also why it did so again in 2014 and why it is prepared to do whatever it takes to prevent the revival of a Urals Republic or any other “Russian” republic on the territory of the Russian Federation.

            In her article, Kirillova points out that “separatist tendencies in the Urals are not as strong as say in Siberia but that the level of dissatisfaction with the policy of the central powers that be is traditionally high,” something that helps to explain why almost all protests in the region now “often are mixed together with ideas of independence from Moscow that aren’t forgotten.”

            The journalist traces the history of these attitudes and the formation and brief existence of the Urals Republic between July 1 and November 9, 1993.  (For additional background on Urals separatist attitudes, see Dmitry Sarutov’s essay at afterempire.info/2016/12/19/ural/ as well as ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Уральская_Республика).

            But Kirillova’s most important points concern the shift in the basis for such attitudes and the extreme nervousness in Moscow about any manifestation of them both at the dawn of the post-Soviet period and now, points that could be extended back at least to the early Soviet period when Stalin redrew the borders of Russian majority oblasts and krays to undercut separatism.

            She notes that those who backed the Urals Republic in the early 1990s did so because they did not like what they called “the asymmetric federation” that Russia was becoming, one in which non-Russian republics had far more rights and powers than did predominantly ethnic Russian oblasts and krays.

            And those holding such views were provoked to action when the leaders of Tatarstan and the Chechen-Ingush ASSR signed federative treaties with Moscow in March 1992, treaties which “became part of the Russian constitution.”

            As the founder of the Urals Republic, Eduard Rossel, put it, “we do not need sovereignty but we very much need economic and legislative independence,” a statement that caused Moscow to be more afraid of what ethnic Russian regions might do than anything the Chechens or others had considered.

            Boris Yeltsin initially appeared to support the idea of a Urals Republic. On November 2, 1993, he told a meeting of the Russian government that efforts by Russian regions to raise their status to that of republics was “an objective process caused by the shortcomings of the existing federal relations in Russia.”

            But seven days later, under pressure from his entourage, Yeltsin issued a decree declaring that those promoting the Urals Republic were violating the Russian constitution and banning that structure.  (According to some memoirs, the Russian president hadn’t initially read anything about what the Urals Republic people were doing.)

            Yeltsin’s advisors, Kirillova continues, “considered that the acquisition by an oblast with a predominantly ethnic Russian population would be a step toward the disintegration of Russia,” a view that was intensified by the clash between Yeltsin and the old Supreme Soviet a month earlier.

            Despite the ban, many in the Urals continued to think about having a republic there. In April 2003, a Urals Republic Movement was registered; and in September of that year, Rossel, who had been re-elected governor said that “the Urals Republic legally exists to this day,” since Yeltsin’s action was based on the earlier constitution and not the current one.

            Such ideas continued to circulate, Kirillova continues, both during the protests against election falsification in 2011-2012 and against Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine. She argues that that foreign policy action by Moscow gave “a different meaning” to the idea of a Urals Republic.”

            It was no longer “a demand for economic independence,” she says, but rather “a desire to separate the Urals from Moscow’s militarist policy and to show the Kremlin how support for separatist tendencies in other countries will end” in Russia itself.

            The reaction of the Putin regime to this was extremely harsh, an indication of how concerned the Kremlin was and remains about such “separatist” ideas among ethnic Russians.  The Moscow media viciously attacked the Urals demonstrators, claiming they were set to organize “a Maidan in the Urals” for the CIA (politrussia.com/society/narodnoe-rassledovanie-maydan-577/   and cont.ws/@schmidt/76355).

                Persecutions and arrests quickly followed, and as a result, there are no people in the Urals at present who are ready to risk their lives to push forward an idea which many of them support at least in private. Indeed, she says, “latent separatist tendencies in the region continue to exist and under certain circumstance could appear extremely impressive.”

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