Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Liquidating Non-Russian Republics Would Be Dangerous for Moscow, Lazarenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 23 – There has been much talk about the possibility that Moscow will liquidate the non-Russian republics, but there has been almost none about exactly how the center would do that.  That makes such talks “unserious” because it means the advocates of such a change do not understand just how difficult and dangerous such a move would be.

            In a commentary on the portal of Russia’s National Democratic Alliance this week, Ilya Lazarenko, one of that group’s leaders, says that there are only two ways in which Moscow could eliminate the non-Russian republics within the Russian Federation and that both are fraught with dangers (

            On the one hand, he says, Moscow could proceed along “the path corresponding to the existing Constitution and not convene a Constitutional Assembly.” Or on the other, it could convene such an assembly “or adopt a new Constitution” for the Russian Federation which in this case would amount to the same thing.

            According to the Constitution, Lazarenko notes, “the status of a subject can be changed by the mutual agreement of the Russian Federation and its subject in conformity with a federal constitutional law.”  Unfortunately, no such law has yet been adopted, and “thus one can nly guess its future content” should it be.

            But “considering the existing legal base, including international law, it is obvious that [such a law] could not suggest any other mechanism besides a referendum.”  If Moscow tried to use existing legislation, it would presumably have to turn to the law governing the formation of a new subject of the Federation by the unification of “two or more” existing ones by a referendum.

             Lazarenko then examines the consequences of each of the two options. With regard to the first which operates within the framework of the existing Constitution, he notes, such a step would be possible only if the population of the republic scheduled to be eliminated voted for that step in a referendum.

            “There is no basis for presupposing [republic] elites would be interested in lowering the status of their republics.” And that view would be found “not only among the representatives of ‘the titular nations.’” No one in any of them would see any “’pluses’” in such a step, and the view that “’now Moscow wants to take everything away from us’” would become widespread.

            Indeed, according to Lazarenko, a positive vote for lowering the status of a republic to that of an oblast would be “practically impossible,” especially in “a key republic” like Tatarstan. Consequently, that likelihood would “cast doubt on the very idea of liquidating national republics as a class.”

            But Moscow would be unlikely to achieve the liquidation of republics if it pursued Constitutional change first.  That “path” would require “the exclusion from the text of the Constitution of references to the republics” and “the unification of the status of the [federal] subjects as gubernias.” Doing that would require a Constitutional Assembly.

            It is quite likely, the National Democratic Alliance leader argues, that “representatives of the national republics would speak out at such a Constitutional Assembly against these changes” but that they would be outvoted. As a result, “the status of the republics would be changed without the agreement of the republics themselves.”

            That might seem like a good outcome for those who say they favor liquidating the republics, Lazarenko continues, but “such a decision would have some curious consequences,” few of which the advocates of this policy appear to have considered.

            Russia’s national republics were formed on the basis of the right of nations to self-determination, a right enshrined in the UN Statute and other basic documents of international law such as the International Pact on Civil and Political Rights, he points out, and any move to abolish them would be “qualified as the international crime” of “’colonial rule.’”

            The titular nationalities in this case would not be required to prove their existence or the pre-existence of their republics, and they would not need “mass uprisings or something like that” to attract support.  Simply “several thousand republic activists” would be enough to start the process of international recognition of their cause as one of national liberation.

            At the very least, this could create problems for Moscow. “At a minimum,” it would mean “the international isolation of the country” because of its new status as a “violator state.” That in turn would promote “the Balkanization of Russia, the degradation of its statehood, and the collapse of the federation with a bloody redrawing of borders and the prospect of long-running inter-ethnic conflicts.”

            Lazarenko concludes that he does “not think that any more or less responsible government would proceed by that path. After all, the Russian Federation is not Cambodia … And if someone again begins talking about [doing away with the non-Russian republics], it would be appropriate to remind him of the dock in the Hague.”

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