Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Three Signs the Kremlin is More Worried about Russian Separatism than It Admits

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 3 – The Russian government says and most Russian commentators and Western observers agree that Vladimir Putin’s Russia does not face any significant separatist challenges by Russians.  But three events this week suggest Moscow is more worried about that possibility than it will ever admit.

            What is especially striking is the fact that they are not all about one region or another but rather about the possibility that the Russian Federation is far more fragile and even threatened by ethnic Russian challenges than perhaps at any time since the early 1990s. These three developments include:

            First and most definitively, Fedot Tumusov, a Just Russia deputy in the Duma, says in a Rosbalt post: “Russia is losing the Far East” (rosbalt.ru/posts/2018/07/03/1714652.html). In support of that contention, he cites the words of Yury Trutnev, Putin’s plenipotentiary representative to the Far Eastern Federal District.

            Trutnev has declared that “at the present time, 70 percent of the Far East is not connected by air routes. Of the 470 airports and landing sites which existed in 1991, only a sixth remain. That lack constitutes a direct threat tot eh life and health of people by not giving them the opportunity to receive timely medical assistance.”

            Things have only gotten worse in the last three years, Trutnev says, because the Russian transportation ministry has promised by not provided for the construction of 42 landing sites.  As a result, people are fleeing the Far East in droves because they do not believe they have any future there.

            “If the state wants to keep the Far East for Russia – simply preserving Russia – it must find the money” for such projects.” Otherwise, Tumusov points out, two-thirds of the country will cease to be part of it. “It is a good thing,” he continues, “that the presidential plenipotentiary is speaking publicly about this problem. But it would be better if he said what the state intends to do about it.”

            Second and in an archetypically Russian way, a Moscow commentator is using a historical debate to make points about the present. Mikhail Zarezin complains that too many Russians have a positive attitude about White leaders forgetting that many of them were quite prepared not just to live under the influence of foreign powers but to give parts of Russia away.

            He says he is especially incensed by those who say that anti-Bolshevik atamans like Semyonov and Annenkov were true Russian heroes. In fact, they were Russian separatists ready to take parts of Russia away from Moscow. To support that contention, he republishes an historian’s 2015 article that makes that point (cont.ws/@mzarezin1307/992384).

            (That article, A.V. Ganin’s “A New Document about the Separatism of Atamans B.V. Annenkov and G.M. Semyonov” (in Russian), Kazachestvo Dalnogo Vostoka Rossii v XVII-XXI vv., sbornik statey, vyp. 4 (Khabarovsk, 2014), pp. 131-134, is extremely interesting in its own right.)

            And the third is a discussion on the After Empire portal about the Russian government’s plan to declare journalists who work for or even cooperate with media outlets which Moscow has declared extremist extremist on an individual basis, one that suggests the regime is especially targeting regionalists (afterempire.info/2018/07/03/inoagents/).

            “By a strange combination of circumstances,” the Tallinn-based portal which covers regionalism in Russia says that “according to the Russian justice ministry list,” the publications and their authors who have been targeted are “almost exclusively those which have been specializing on a regionalist agenda.”

            Among them are Radio Free Europe, Nastoyashchyeye vremay, the Tatar-Bashkir service of Radio Svoboda, and Svoboda’s “regional media projects, Sibir Realii, Idel.Realii, Kavkaz.Realii, and Krym.Realii.  “This is understandable,” After Empire says. By telling the truth about the real life of Russia’s regions, you inflict harm on imperial unity.”

            According to the portal, “the Putin regime with each passing year is spending ever more forces, resource, and ‘spiritual bindings’ in the struggle with ‘the disintegration of the country.’” It wants to homogenize the country and clearly believes that is the only way that the unity of Russia can be preserved.

            Empires always feel that way, but “empires age and die. And on their graves always grow and flourish ‘thousands of flowers’ of unique regional cultures. The same thing will be true this time as well.”

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