Saturday, June 15, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Ukrainian Nationalists Planning to Train Russian Separatists in Special Camps

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 15 – Radical Ukrainian nationalists, some of whom fought against Moscow in Chechnya and others who have been involved in demonstrations in Stavropol kray, say that they are setting up special camps in their country to train Russian activists from regions whose populations, the Ukrainian organizers say, will “soon separate themselves from Russia.”

            The plan, promoted by Dmitry Korchinsky, who earlier led the UNA-UNSO organization, was presented on his extremist Bratstvo Party website earlier this month ( and has now attracted the attention of a Moscow portal (

            And that “Svobodnya pressa” article features comments by Rais Suleymanov, a Kazan-based specialist, who argues that this Ukrainian move is part of a far broader effort by Russia’s neighbors to promote the disintegration of the Russian state, something that he suggests is a real possibility unless Moscow moves quickly to counter it.

            The Ukrainian camps for Russians interested in separating from Moscow will run from July 15 to August 31, feature courses on organizing civic resistance, battling law enforcement and the FSB, agitation and propaganda, as well as seminars on “the theoretical foundations of Russian autonomy and the theology of the Russian Autonomous Church.”

            Vitaly Slovetsky of “Svobodnaya pressa” spoke with two young Russians who plan to go. Denis, 20 from Voronezh, said he intends to enroll because “the Kremlin is spitting on the entire Russian people … all of my friends don’t like Moscow.” They consider the capital and the people who live there “an enemy state.

            And Maksim, 19 from Novorossiisk, said he was going because the rulers in Moscow keep passing laws that enrich themselves even as the impoverish all Russians living elsewhere. People are fed up with Moscow, he said, “why do we need such authorities? Why do we need Moscow?”

            To put these reactions and the Ukrainian effort in context, Slovetsky spoke with Suleymanov, who heads the Volga Center for Regional and Ethno-Religious Research of the Russian Institute for Strategic Research and who has attracted attention for his articles suggesting that Islamist extremism is spreading across the Russian Federation.

            Concerning the Ukrainian effort, Suleymanov said that Ukrainian nationalists consider many adjoining parts of the Russian Federation to be “parts of Greater Ukraine which must be restored.” Consequently, they are focusing their efforts on people from those places and seeking to “reorient young people there and change their ethnic identification.”

            But the Ukrainian effort, as dramatic as it appears, is only part of a larger phenomenon, the Kazan specialist says. “At the present time, preparations are being made for the process of the reconstitution of Russia.” Earlier, most experts had thought this would involve only the North Caucasus, but now, he said, it is clear that it involves a far greater part of the country.

            This “project,” Suleymanov continued, looks for the achievement of separatist agendas over the next “10 to 15 years.”  And despite its comic opera qualities, the specialist on ethnicity and religion says, “in reality, [it] has serious chances for realization” because it enjoys foreign support and is not now being effectively countered by the Russian government.

            The Republic of Georgia began seeking to reorient North Caucasians already in 2003 and identified as its main goal the restoration of “’Greater Circassia.’”  Tbilisi organized training sessions for Circassians, recognized the 1864 events as a genocide, and until recently said it did not want to take part in the Olympics at Sochi, the site of those 150-year-ago events.

            According to Suleymanov, “an analogous project is being realized by Europe and the United States with respect to the residents of Karelia and portions of the ethnic Russian population of Leningrad oblast.”  These foreign sponsors are trying to promote what some call “Ingermanland separatism.”

            At the same time, he adds, “Norway is supporting Pomor Separatism.” Separatist regionalism is also growing in Siberia and among portions of the population of Arkhangelsk oblast in the Russian North.  As for Ukraine, it hopes to promote separatism among the young in Kuban, Stavropol, the Don and the Chernozem region.

            Ukraine is able to do this because of its rapprochement with the West. If it joins the European Union and NATO, residents of the Southern Federal District are likely to see certain advantages in uniting with that country and begin to talk about “withdrawal from the Russian Federation.” If that happens, “Russia would lose its access to the Black Sea.”

            Already, Suleymanov agrees, “separatist attitudes in the Kuban and Don are quite strong,” expressed “in the striving of the Cossacks to declare themselves a separate ethnos.” That was clear during the most recent census when “an enormous quantity of residents called themselves not [ethnic] Russians but Cossacks.”

            “Young people,” the specialist continues, “are still pro-Russia but they have become anti-Moscow,” a trend that should surprise no one familiar with the “traditional” hostility of the provinces to the capital.  Unfortunately, he adds, such feelings can be exploited by outsiders especially if the central authorities do not recognize the danger.

            These outsiders, as the Ukrainians and others are doing, can present themselves as sympathetic. “We need you, we are concerned about you,” they say.  But the Russian authorities “are not working with the ethnic Russian population of Ukraine, in particular with that part which lives in Crimea … As a result, Russia could fall apart.”

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