Monday, June 24, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Liberals Share Blame for Survival of Moscow’s Imperialist Impulses, Rodionov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 24 – Russia’s liberals played a key role in pushing through the economic reforms which made a return to communism impossible, but they failed to help the country to make the transition from an empire to a nation and thus must bear part of the blame for continuing strength of Moscow’s imperialist impulses, according to Kirill Rodionov.

            In an article in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Rodionov, who is a researcher at the Gaidar Institute of Economic Policy, argues that this is because “liberals of the 1990s were not able to re-imagine Russia as an [ethnic] Russian nation state” and thus unintentionally opened the way for imperialist “nostalgia” (

            Under the stewardship of the liberals, “the imperial identity of the country was not subjected to revision,” the economist writes. “Russia remained a metropolis which having offered independence to the colonies sought at any price to compensate for their loss” with all kinds of largely ineffective “neo-imperial projects.”

            Russia’s liberals in the 1990s did even more to open the way for such an outcome. They rejected anything that appeared to reflect ethnic Russian nationalism, an understandable but unfortunate attitude that reflected the fact that “in the first years of an independent Russia, supporters of restoring the communist order predominated among Russian nationalists.”

            In October 1993, Rodionov points out, “liberals and nationalists were on different sides of the barricades in the course of [what was in effect] a civil war in the central streets of Moscow.”

            However, this opposition is in one way quite surprising, he continues, because the 1991 revolution itself was to a large extent nationalistic.”  Yeltsin acted “as a Russian nationalist” both when he sought Russia’s withdrawal from the USSR and when he proposed creating ethnic Russian national republics “inside the federation” in order to equalize the status of Russians.

            But Rodionov continues, Yeltsin changed course when he “encountered the problem of separatism from the autonomous soviet socialist republics and so dropped any idea of forming ethnic Russian national republics. As a result, inter-ethnic relations in the Russian Federation were arranged on old imperialist principles.

            That reality was reflected in the 1993 Constitution whose preamble began with the word “’We, the multi-national people of the Russian Federation,’” a phenomenon, Rodionov says, that “does not exist in nature” because “a nation is an ethno-cultural community” and in the Russian Federation there are many of them.

            This imperialist principle also explains much of Russia’s problems with the North Caucasus, “the most unstable region of Russia,” problems that were exacerbated by what Rodionov calls “the genocide” of Russians there in the early 1990s, military intervention and more recently massive assistance in an effort to buy loyalty.

             In the mid-1990s, he continues “Russian society was not prepared for the separation of Chechnya from Russia,” fearful that such a step would lead to the departure of other subjects of the Federation. That explains why most Russians backed what Yeltsin did there in 1994, and why anti-war demonstrations attracted so few people.

            But two brutal wars and the high cost of trying to keep the North Caucasus part of Russia through assistance have shown that the only alternative to these failed policies is independence of the North Caucasus republics, the withdrawal of ethnic Russians, and “the introduction of a tough visa regime and a firm prohibition against dual citizenship with the Russian Federation.”

            Other subjects of the Russian Federation are unlikely to follow because “outside of the North Caucasus,” Rodionov says, there is only one republic, Tuva, where Russians form a significant minority (16.3 percent).  And consequently, “the separation of Tuva” at some in the future cannot be ruled out.

            Ethnic Russians in the Russian Federation, in contrast to the non-Russians, are “a people without land. On the one hand, Moscow “denies” that “Russia is the motherland of the [ethnic] Russian people,” and ethnic Russians living abroad who would like to return “cannot receive Russian Federation citizenship automatically.”

            And on the other hand, “there are no [ethnic] Russian regions in Russia.  The Tatars have Tatarstan. The Yakuts have Yakutia, and the Kalmyks have Kalmykia.”  But the Russians do not have any place that they can call their own.

            There are only two ways out of this “asymmetry,” Rodionov says, either “the complete liquidation of national republics, a step that “is not only unrealistic from a technical point of view but also unjust” or  -- and this is the better choice -- “the creation of [ethnic] Russian national republics by combining krays and oblasts where the Russian population predominates.”

            The National Democratic Alliance proposed exactly this in 2011. If adopted, Russia would have seven new ethnic Russian republics – Central Russia, the Russian North, the Volga Region, South Russia, the Urals, Siberia and the Far East – alongside “22 [non-Russian] republics that would be fully equal in rights.”

            To make this work, Rodionov adds, it would be necessary to “decentralize” budgetary arrangements because “the regions must have an essentially larger tax base than they do at the present time.” And Moscow must adopt a law that would grant citizenship to ethnic Russians living outside the borders of the Russian Federation who want to return.

If all this is done and it should be, the economist argues, Russia will “ease to be a state in which [ethnic] Russian elites seek imperial expansion at the expense of the rights, freedoms and well-being of the [ethnic] Russian people.” Such “full and final” turning away from “a neo-imperialist Eurasian project is the duty of any responsible powers before the Russian people.”

That is all the more so, Rodionov concludes, because Russia’s only chance for a future is “rapprochement with the developed countries of the Western world.  “The strengthening of China and the establishment of anti-Western regimes in the Near East create the preconditions” for exactly that.’’

The possibility of establishing “a zone of freedom from San Francisco to Vladivostok” is real but to achieve it, Russia and Russia’s liberals “must support the ethno-cultural rights of the [ethnic] Russian people,” stop “the Islamization of Russian cities as a result of immigration, and “stop being afraid to speak aloud about the problems of inter-ethnic relations.”

If those things don’t happen, he concludes, “Russia as a country of the [ethnic] Russians will come to an end.”

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