Monday, February 4, 2019

Did Yeltsin Really Plan to Create Seven Ethnic Russian Republics to Counter Non-Russian Ones?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 3 – One of the murkier periods of the last years of the Soviet Union involves what Boris Yeltsin appears to have been planning to do to counter Mikhail Gorbachev’s efforts to weaken the president of the RSFSR by elevating the status of the autonomous republics within it to that of the union republics, Vadim Shtepa says.

            Gorbachev’s move is well-known and was clearly intended to weaken the RSFSR by allowing the non-Russian republics not only to sign a new union treaty but to exit the Russian republic by gaining the right that the union republics had on paper – and later exercised – to leave the USSR as a whole.

            Nearly a decade ago, Russian nationalist commentator Aleksey Shiropayev said that Yeltsin in February 1990 had told the Urals Polytechnic Institute that “within the RSFSR after a referendum could be formed seven ethnic Russian republics: Central Russia, North, South, Volga, Urals, Siberia, and the Far East” (

            Shiropayev cites as his source, Russkaya mysl, February 16, 1990. He further specifies that this publication appeared in New York. At that time, there was a Russkaya mysl in Paris but the one in New York appeared only the next year, raising the possibility that this whole case is apocryphal, Shtepa, the editor of Region.Expert says (

                That is especially the case because Yeltsin’s remark was not reported in any Soviet news outlet, something perhaps not surprising given Gorbachev’s power and the extreme sensitivity of any discussion of creating new republics, especially ethnic Russian ones, even at the time of glasnost. 

            But let us assume that Yeltsin really said these words, Shtepa says. “Theoretically,” that makes sense in the context of his struggle with Gorbachev. But what Yeltsin appears to have been proposing would have led to the end of a single Russian republic just as surely as what Gorbachev was. Indeed, it would have destroyed it far more fundamentally.

            After the USSR disintegrated and the Russian Federation gained independence, Yeltsin forgot about this possibility. Indeed, he moved in the opposite direction, going to war against Chechnya and banning efforts to form a Urals Republic from below, fearful of moves he was prepared to use to come to power.

            Shtepa cites the words of US-based Russian journalist who is from the Urals that Yeltsin acted as he did against the Urals Republic and other such projects precisely because his entourage feared that the formation of a multitude of ethnic Russian republics would lead to the disintegration of Russia (

                That logic had a curious outcome: it ensured that Yeltsin’s successor would be even more centralist and hostile to such ideas; but at the same time, it opened the way for the idea of “’seven Russian republics’” to take on a new life in the form of the federal districts headed by presidential plenipotentiaries Vladimir Putin created early on in his rule.

            While Putin has no such intention, these proto-republics could acquire new powers and new importance in a post-Putin world and become the basis for a federation or confederation of Russian and non-Russian republics, Shtepa concludes. Stranger things have happened as Yeltsin’s reported words in 1990 show.

No comments:

Post a Comment