Friday, January 4, 2019

Foreign Countries Not Going to Help Regions Escape Moscow, New Portal on Russian Regionalism Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 4 – Vadim Shteppa, the Tallinn-based regionalist from Karelia who has been editing the After Empire portal for the last two years, has launched a new project, Region. Expert, which he describes as a web journal on regionalism and federalism in Russia” (

            “Contemporary Russia, despite its official name, is in fact not a federation,” Shteppa writes. His new portal will be “devoted to an analysis of this situation and … the prospects of Russian regionalism and federalism. The majority of [its] authors will in various regions of the Russian federation and thus see this more clearly than do ‘federal’ political scientists.”

            “On the Region. Expert portal, he continues, “we will continue to combine analysis and attention to regional news which are not noticed by the ‘central’ media,” just as was the case in the After Empire site.  As such, it promises to be essential reading for all those who are concerned about Russia as a country and not just as an extension of Moscow.

            The first article, by Mikhail Kulekhov, an Irkutsk historian and commentator, focuses on the frequent claim by Moscow and Russian imperial nationalists that the entire world is only waiting to carve up Russia and thus is prepared to conspire with regional and republic forces to tear Russia apart (

                That is nonsense, he says, and dangerous nonsense because it undermines any possibility for federalism and leads some in the regions to expect that others will come to their aid and hand them what they seek, a demobilizing phenomenon that regionalists and federalists have a compelling need to overcome.

            “Not only in the last 300 years ha sone country in the world attempted officially to help any ‘separatists’ in Russia, be it the Russian Empire, the USSR or the Russian Federation,” Kulekhov says. “No one even once has tried to ‘dismember Russia.’ Instead, foreign countries have viewed it as a single whole” with which one could fight or cooperate as needed.

            “The disintegration of the USSR presented an enormous problem for the West,” he continues. First and foremost, they had to figure out how to cope with the issue of nuclear weapons; but then, they also had to decide how to relate to countries that had been part of a single whole.

                Few countries have recognized the breakaway republics of Abkhazia, South Osetia or Transdniestria or the Anschluss of Crimea “for one single reason.” None of these places had the kind of referenda the international community now requires for it to grand recognition.  (In Crimea, the referendum wasn’t about leaving Ukraine but rather joining Russia.)

            The only case where a country received independence “without a referendum” was Kosovo, where it happened by a vote of the parliament which was accepted internationally because that country was the victim of ethnic cleansings and much violence, the Irkutsk writer says.

            The same barrier now faces those places close to independence like Quebec, Scotland and Catalonia, and the reaction of the international community to them is to ask first and foremost “how will the new states be able to maintain order on their territories and fulfill the obligations of the former states.”

            However much sympathy some in the West may feel toward the liberation struggle in the former Soviet Union or the Russian Federation “from imperial and colonial dependence, no one is going to ‘get involved’ in this from the outside. They are going to think about themselves first and about the devil they know rather than devils they don’t.

            Western leaders view the current Russian rulers as known quantities. “Everyone knows what can be expected of them and how to deal with them if they violate international laws or obligations they have assumed.” No one knows how any new states would behave and so no state wants to take the chance.

            To be sure, “certain private persons and public organizations in the West can sympathize with regionalists in Russia, but this in no case will be reflected in official policy,” Kulekhov says.  And that is something that participants in the liberation movements need to clearly understand and accept.

            They can count “only on their own forces, foreseeing all the inevitable problems and difficulties which will arise during the realization of our plans and programs,” he concludes; and they can be “certain that there will be more than enough of those.”

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