Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Is Moscow about to Revive a Nationalities Ministry?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 9 – Rumors are flying that Moscow may soon restore a ministry of nationality affairs in place of the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs and that Magomedsalam Magomedov, the former president of Daghestan who has overseen nationality policy for the Presidential Administration since 2013 may be given the job.

            There are at least three reasons why these rumors which have circulated before may have more substance now. First, the Presidential Administration is being re-organized and, according to an anonymous Kommersant source, there is no “chair” in the new constellation for Magomedov (

            Second, the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs and its head Igor Barinov have been subject to withering criticism for planning and financial problems, much of it the product of the fact that the agency has too many responsibilities and too little power to impose its decisions on the republics and ethnic organizations (

            And third, if Vladimir Putin continues his drive against non-Russian languages and does move to do away with the non-Russian republics as ever more Russian nationalists are urging (, even more decisions about ethnic matters would inevitably be concentrated in Moscow than even now. 

A ministry might thus appear to be to the Kremlin a more appropriate arrangement, especially as it could be sold within the country and abroad as an indication of the Russian government’s solicitude for ethnic issues even as the government moves against the structures that have been the main defense of non-Russian nations.

But it is quite possible that Putin will prove reluctant to take this step. One of his earliest acts in his first term as president was to abolish the post-Soviet Russian ministry for nationality affairs whose responsibilities he divided among several other ministries. Only in 2015 did he create the current Federal Agency.

Moreover, the Kremlin leader faces the same challenges in this area that his predecessors have: If he gives the organization charged with nationality policy enough power and money to make a difference, he will have created a bureaucratic monster that will rapidly become involved in almost anything.

But if Putin doesn’t give the agency that much money and power – and he hasn’t given the Federal Agency much of either – then it is likely that he will have a largely meaningless institution and that fights over nationality policy will continue as of nothing within other parts of the Moscow bureaucracy and  between Moscow and the republics. 

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