Staunton, March 31 – A man who posted on line a call to conduct a popular referendum on the formation of an independent Astrakhan Republic has been convicted of seeking to violate the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation and given a suspended sentence of 18 months behind bars and a further year during which he cannot be employed by government agencies.
Aleksandr Lychagin, the prosecutor for Astrakhan oblast, said some may view this “’initiative’” as a bad joke, but “some may take it seriously.” As a result of vigilance by the FSB, the man was arrested, charged, and convicted, in what Lychagin suggests is a warning to other thinking about anything similar (kaspyinfo.ru/nezavisimoj-astrahanskoj-respubliki-ne-budet/).
During 2018, he continues, seven cases of extremist posts were referred to the courts, which returned five convictions. So far this year, however, he has not referred any to the courts, either because people have become convinced that they will be caught and punished or because of changes in popular attitudes.
Two aspects of this particular case are worth nothing. First, it calls attention to the fact that even portions of the Russian Federation apparently completely integrated include at least some residents who view secession as the only possible way to defend their rights given Moscow’s increasing repression of the regions.
And second, because Moscow is not willing to consider giving the regions more rights, activists in such places are apparently concluded that the only way out is a way out, namely, the pursuit of independence, the unintended product of Russian policies rather than of any conspiracy, regardless of what some in the center are certain to believe.