Monday, February 11, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Non-Russian Republics Less a Separatist Threat than Are Russian Regions, Eurasian Theorist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 11 – Fighting separatism by “liquidating” the non-Russian republics of the Russian Federation is “equivalent to fighting fire with gasoline,” a Eurasian theorist says, because the separatist threat those republics present is far less than the ones now posed by predominantly ethnic Russian regions.

            In a 6,000-word article, Rustem Vakhitov, an expert at the Lev Gumilyev Center, says that “the stereotype” that those committed to the survival of the Russian state in its current borders back the idea of eliminating the non-Russian republics and that the only ones who support such republics are members of the titular nationalities.

            But that view is wrong, he says, because state-thinking people who have studied the subject most closely recognize that “the liquidation of the national republics and their replacement by extra-territorial ethnic subjects anytime soon would be dangerous and absurd” (

            That is because, Vakhitov argues, such “an operation” would have just the reverse effect that its backers hope for: It would lead to an intensification of separatist movements not only among the non-Russians who would have lost something but among ethnic Russians in the regions who would see this as a chance to gain even more.

Last fall, Mikhail Prokhorov’s suggestion that Moscow should do away with the non-Russian republics provoked a firestorm on the internet, and this had not ended when on January 22, Valery Korovin, “the right-hand” man of neo-Eurasianist leader Aleksandr Dugin, made a similar proposal (

In fact, Korovin was proposing something else entirely, Vakhitov says.  He argued that “after the liquidation of the national republics, the indigenous non-Russian peoples of Russia” would be allowed to form extra-territorial organizations a la the Austro-Marxist Otto Bauer to protect their ethnic identities and heritages in ways that would not promote separatism.

(Few noticed, Vakhitov points out in an aside, that Dugin himself had made a similar proposal the month before in an interview he gave to the Sakha portal “Zemlya Olonkho” (

Vakhitov dissents from the position of both of his Eurasian colleagues because he says that “national republics within the Russian Federation not only do not present a great danger with regard to nationalism and separatism but on the contrary, [these republics] were created and function as instruments to restraint the nationalism and separatism of their titular nationalities.”

Vakhitov begins by examining the arguments of Korovin and Dugin.  He says the two “do not notice that they are contradicting themselves.” They think that elimininating the non-Russian republics would reduce the number of federal subjects but in fact, their approach would increase the number from 83 to 199, with 57 territorial subjects and 142 extra-territorial ones.
The new system would strain the budget and create a whole series of new controversies between Moscow and the nationalities directly which would promote rather than limit nationalist and separatist movements among those losing republic status because they would feel deprived of something they had and would believe that they were threatened with “ethnocide.”

As Vitaly Kamyshev has pointed out in his essay “Will the Russian Federation Survive Until 2014?” Vakhitov says, this trend can already be seen in the case of Buryats who are angry that the Ust-Orda and Agin districts have been folded into predominantly ethnic Russian regions and thus cut off from Buryatia (

Problems with this system would begin even before it was fully put in place, Vakhitov continues.  Moscow couldn’t do it all at once, and consequently, those nationalities who were not yet its victims would draw some obvious and invidious conclusions about the center’s intentions from what happens to those who were.

Moreover, the elimination of non-Russian republics would lead to a sharp increase in the flow of migrants to Moscow and other major cities and probably involve the Russian Federation in disputes with foreign countries and international organizations of one kind or another (

But the “main” thesis of Dugin and Korovin is elsewhere: They hold that “the national republics are pre-eminent sources of separatism.”  That is simply false, as Russian history shows. Whenever the center has been weakened, “separatism breaks out not only in the national republics” but in purely Russian ones.  And there is reason to believe that could happen again.

Thus, Vakhitov argues, “separatism and autonomism are not equivalent to nationalism” and far closer to separation are those regions where the population is able to form a common identity, regardless of whether it is “ethnic or simply” regional. Russian regions are often more able to do that than are the internally divided along ethnic lines non-Russian republics as the research of Leokadiya Drobizheva has shown (

 The Soviet authorities appreciated the dangers in both.  In Russian areas, Moscow controlled the situation by controlling population flows and parachuting in leaders so that they would not promote regional identities. And in non-Russian republics, the center put a Russian in second place in the local power structure and Russians in the population to control the situation.

But Gorbachev’s perestroika largely destroyed these levers and now the center lacks the mechanisms of control it had in both cases.  These “mechanisms,” Vakhito argues, need to be “renewed,” because that will offer far better protection against separatism than the elimination of the non-Russian republics which would almost certainly have the opposite effect.

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