Indeed, Shtepa says – and this is one of the most important points of his article as prepared for Estonia’s International Centre for Defence and Security – regionalism is the more general term, of which non-Russian nationalisms are a subset, in every case raising regional concerns albeit with an ethnic coloration.
Moreover, he points out, regionalism, including that based on ethnic groups, will become secessionist only if the authorities refuse to treat it with respect. But unfortunately, that is what Moscow has been doing since Vladimir Putin came to power; and now, some Russian regions like non-Russian ones are reflecting whether they can achieve their goals within Russia.
From Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg in the west to Vladivostok in the east, there are important regionalist groups, most existing online, because the regionalist parties that existed two decades ago have been banned. In these movements, young people, especially students and members of the creative intelligentsia, are dominant.
Most are in predominantly Russian areas, he says; but regionalism in the Middle Volga and the North Caucasus often displays a more ethnic face, largely because of the question of language instruction in the schools. But there the issues that agitate non-Russians in most cases resemble those that agitate ethnic Russians in other places.
That is demonstrated by the emergence of groups like European Tatarstan which appeared in 2013 and devotes its attention to issues far beyond the ethnic. (For background on that group, see region.expert/eurotatarstan/).
Moscow is obviously concerned about all this. Putin banned all regionally based parties early on; and in the last two years, his regime has blocked 23 social network groups dealing with Urals regionalism alone as well as numerous others in other parts of the Russian Federation ().
These actions are based on a 2014 law banning anything that can be interpreted to be “a call for the violation of the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation,” language that the authorities apply to anyone seeking greater rights for regions or republics, regardless of nationality.
The situation appears set to become even worse for regionalist groups. Russia’s justice ministry has proposed amending the basic laws on public organizations which will require that all groups, including those which now exist on social networks alone, be subject to registration as NGOs have been ( ).
“These amendments,” Shtepa argues, “will in fact ban any regionalist movement” as they would give the authorities the power to ban even informal social network-based groups. It is another matter how effective state action in this area would be; but it would certainly give the powers that be yet another way to tighten the screws on Russian society.
Some groups may in fact close; but members of many others are likely to be radicalized. And as a result, Moscow will be confronted by problem far more serious than the one it would have had it only been willing to show respect to and address in a serious way the issues of concern to regions.
If such groups conclude that they cannot have a future in a Moscow-dominated state, that will do more to threaten the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation than anything any regional movement has done in that country up to now.