Staunton, February 16 – The Russian Federation de facto has been a unitary state for a long time, Moscow experts say; and it is rapidly returning to a system of governors general. But that does not require that the Kremlin disband the non-Russian republics. It can simply impose its own people and policies on them.
At a meeting of the Rosbalt political club, four experts, commentator Aleksandr Zhelennin says, agreed that “today the transformation of Russian into a unitary state is improbable” because the Kremlin can achieve its goals without disbanding the non-Russian republics (rosbalt.ru/russia/2018/02/15/1682709.html).
Irina Gordienko, the North Caucasus correspondent for Novaya gazeta, says that one should not make too much of what is happening in Daghestan. It has happened before and the use of national quotas for the leadership in that republic “had begun to die already in Soviet times.” Thus, the latest Moscow actions are “neo-colonialism or an attempt to impose external rule.”
After all, “all the force structures in the republic have always been headed by Russians or with Russians as the deputies” who actually gave the orders. Moreover, plans to fight corruption there have a long history. Nothing has changed them, except perhaps campaign needs.
Natalya Zubarevich, a regional specialist at Moscow’s Independent Institute of Social Policy, says that in fact Russia has long been a unitary state whatever it chooses to call itself. Instead with the exception of Chechnya and to a lesser extent Ingushetia, Moscow makes the decisions. In those two cases, Moscow extends preferences which it could of course withdraw.
Now, she says, Russia is returning to “the imperial traditions of administration,” one that represents “a transition to the highest level” of a unitary system. Sometimes, Moscow makes mistakes as in the case of the requirement that non-Russian republics cease making their titular languages obligatory in the schools. But that is an exception to the rule, not a bellwether.
As far as what is going on in Daghestan, the population there views the new people as “new ‘brooms’” who may sweep aside some of the corruption; but they are certain to be disappointed over time. Indeed, she says, the purges in that North Caucasus republic are “no more than ‘a pre-election move.’”
Vitaly Kamyshev, a Moscow political scientist, agrees, although he says the situation in Daghestan represents a case of both sides going too far. “But on the whole, the situation in the country is still under control.” If the center pushes too far or if the republics resist too much, that could change and lead to a different situation entirely.
And Andrey Okara, the director of the Moscow Center for East European Research, offers another reason why Moscow is unlikely to do away with all aspects of formal democracy: Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine are each conscious of what the other does and often strive to do just the opposite.