Thursday, April 13, 2017

Three New but Fateful Developments on Russia’s Chessboard of Nationalities

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 13 – Discussions among intellectuals and politicians in Moscow attract more attention, but the often more obscure tectonic movements of the multiplicity of nationalities within the Russian Federation typically have far larger and more fateful consequences not only for the specific ethnic communities involved but also for the country as a whole.

            Three of the most important developments of this kind reported this week are:

·         Moscow is trying to get private companies to help provide funds for the numerically small peoples of the North where the companies are engaged in various kinds of economic activity, but only two of the 22 companies the central government has encouraged to provide assistance of this kind have been willing to make any such contributions (  Curiously if only coincidentally, that report came as one prominent Moscow blogger reported that the reason the Russians lost out in Alaska to the Americans was because Russian settlers did not interact with the indigenous populations and make use of their skills and expertise but assumed they could do everything on their own.  The Americans, in contrast, Pavel Pryannikov says, recognized early on the cooperating and even assisting indigenous peoples was a more useful way forward (заложничество-и-кабала-почему-русски/).

·         Vladimir Putin’s regional amalgamation project has never been popular with non-Russians because it is based on the proposition that smaller non-Russian units should be folded into larger and predominantly ethnic Russian ones. Where that has happened, the non-Russians have discovered in every case that they are worse off economically and politically than they were before. Now, there is another development that is likely to convince them to oppose further amalgamations and may even cause Putin to rethink this idea.  Ethnic Buryats from the former Agin national district that was folded into Chita oblast which became the Transbaikal kray in 2008 are moving en masse to the Buryat Republic, making that federal subject more Buryat and Transbaikal more Russian, the reverse of what was supposed to happen (

·         Russia’s last two bi-national republics, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachayevo-Cherkessia, in the North Caucasus are now under pressure to dissolve and allow the Turkic Balkars and the Turkic Karachays who speak the same language to form their own mono-ethnic republic. What makes this development new and important is that the pressure for making this change is coming from the Turkic nationalities rather than from the Circassians Kabards and Cherkess who had long been thought to be the prime movers in this direction and against whom Moscow has worked to prevent the reformation of a Greater Circassia in the homeland from which that nation was exterminated or expelled by tsarist forces in 1864.  Now, however, the Circassians have a new ally in the Turkic peoples that Moscow had thought it would be able to use to put a brake on Circassian aspirations (

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