Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Call for Giving Constitutional Mandate to Russian Areas Abroad to Join Russian Federation Sparks Unwelcome Discussion

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 31 – In an entirely unexpected way, Sergey Panteleyev says, “the political storm of Constitutional reform” has led to calls for giving ethnic Russian areas in neighboring countries a mandate in the Russian constitution to be able to join the Russian Federation.

            Not surprisingly, this indirect creation of “Russian irredenta” has alienated many of Russia’s neighbors and worked largely for Russia’s opponents both in these countries and further afield, the director of the Moscow Institute for Russia Abroad says; and for that reason, it should be rejected (

            But this episode says much about the problems many have in discussing the Russian world, the relationship of Russian nationality to the Russian Federation, and the relationship of the Russian Federation of the past to the RSFSR of Soviet times and the Russian Empire before that, Panteleyev says.

            The idea of inserting into the Russian constitution a mandate for ethnic Russian regions abroad to join the Russian Federation belongs to Bogdan Bezpalko, head of the Federal National-Cultural Autonomy of the Ukrainians of Russia and a member of both the Russian Presidential Council on Inter-Ethnic Relations and the working group on constitutional reform.

            On January 17, Bezpalko gave an interview to the portal in which he said he favored such a mandate although had not in fact offered a specific proposal (  The reaction was entirely predictable especially in Belarus and Ukraine where the worst possible construction was put on his words.

            One Ukrainian newspaper, for example, headlined its report on Bezpalko’s words “Putin is preparing a plan for reunification with Ukraine and Belarus.” Others there and in Belarus were even more extreme, and the blogosphere went crazy. Some Russians picked up on the idea as if it were a done deal, forcing the Kremlin to deny that (

            After that, published another interview, this time with historian Aleksandr Dyukov denouncing Bezpalko’s words about Russian irridentas as “’a provocation’” and saying that such ideas only work for Russia’s enemies. “The phrase ‘one people-one Reich’ isn’t competitive in the present-day world,” he said (

            Finally, Bezpalko tried to put an end to this discussion himself by pointing out to a Stavropol news outlet that “in fact, there is already a provision in the Constitution” that would allow Russians and Russian areas to join the Russian Federation, Article 65, Point 2.  All it takes is a federal constitutional law (

            That may have calmed things down in Ukraine and even Belarus, but the non-proposal proposal is still echoing elsewhere in the former Soviet space. Russian activists in Estonia have picked up on it to complain that the Russian Constitution makes no reference to Russian compatriots abroad and their role in the Russian world (

            And in Kazakhstan, Viktor Shatskikh, a commentator for Zona.KZ, has picked up on the debate to ask why people are getting so angry about something that should be viewed as normal and a matter of course, another indication that the debates Putin has started may ultimately work very much against his interests (

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