Thursday, August 22, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Siberia Can Do Very Well without Russia, Separatist Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, August 22 – Mikhail Kulekhov, a defender of Lake Baikal and a leading advocate of an independent Siberia, addresses many of the issues such an agenda raises in a highly unusual and remarkably frank 7200-word interview with an independent Bratsk journalist Vladimir Monakhov (, and

Among the most interesting points Kulekhov, 52, makes, are the following: 

·         “Siberia must cease to be a colony” of Russia’s. Some Siberians are prepared for a new union with Russia, but if Moscow isn’t prepared to change its relationship with the region, then Siberian independence is “inevitable.” “All colonies sooner or later have been liberated.” Siberia will be no exception. 

       Siberia “will be able to defend itself.” It has always been able to do so.  In the late Soviet period, Moscow military people told the Siberians that in the event of a clash with China, Siberians should “not wait” for reinforcements from central Russia.
      “Russia is incapable of governing Siberia … [it] is incapable of maintaining law and order in Siberia … [it] is incapable of doing something for the development of Siberia … [and it] is incapable of defending Siberiaa and Siberians from enemies foreign and domestic.  This is a fact.”
      Russia is in trouble now and will be in worse shape after Siberia leaves. But Kulekhov says that he is “not ready to erect a cross over Russia: it is still caable of living by its own labor and not only stealing from others.”

·         “The Russian state cannot be a centralized state. All its history more than demonstrates the opposite. As soon as efforts at centralization are made, collapse immediately follows.”

·         Governors in Siberia whether appointed by Moscow or from Siberia itself are tied “hand and foot” and cannot take the lead in defending Siberian interests. But “at the very same time, in this very same ‘center,’ nno one ever knows or can know what is taking place with us, what are our problems, what we need and what we don’t need. Any directives of ‘the center’ are always harmful for us.”

 ·         Many people have left Siberia, but despite Moscow’s claims, these are not the most valuable. They are only those who cannot make it in Siberia. “Those who remain have no other motherland besides Siberia. There are a lot of them, and these are the most active, the most liberate, and the most full of character.”

·         Unless Moscow is very foolish, Siberia will be able to separate from Russia by means of a velvet divorce much like that between the Czech Republic and Slovakia or like the departure of many British colonies in the past.
·         Siberians are ready for talks, and they know that Moscow ultimately lacks the forces to hold them inside the Russian Federation.  As the Osetian war of 2008 and more recent Russian military exercise show, “Russia does not have an army” worthy of the name.

·         Polls taken by Siberian regionalists show that25 to 30 percent of residences favor independence right now. Another 60-70 percent favor autonomy “with equal relations” between Russia and Siberia. “only a small percentage” are content with “the existing arrangements.”

·         Most Siberians look to the Pacific rim and to China not to the West and will continue to do so. At the same time, they view the United States as a country with whom theirs will be able to cooperate.

·         Siberia has a sufficiently large population, one bigger than Canada’s, and thus does not need immigrants. 

·         The “process of separation” of Siberia from Russia is already ongoing. The liquidation of the Academy  of Sciences by Moscow, “one of [the center’s] last ‘verticals’,” shows this. Indeed, this action sends a signal to the regions tht they are going to have to take more responsibility, signals very much like those “at the end of the 1980s.”

·         Most Siberians hope that the process won’t be concluded too quickly because many are not ready. They do not want to be in the position of Russian and other leaders after 1991 who did not expect the end of the USSR. The only people ready for that were the criminals.

·         Despite what some in Moscow think, “Russians are not ‘one people;’  they are a multitude of peoples with very uncertain borders. ‘We are Pskov’ people is not simply a joke from a movie; it is a reality. Russians always have understood the difference of people from Ryazan and those from Astrakhan, of Muscovites from Petersburgers, of Smolensk people from people of the Urals.”

·         “In Soviet times, because of massive resettlement,” these differences were reduced but hardly eliminated. Even now, however, “the Baikal and the Middle Volga are DIFFERENT lands, something only those ignorant of geography will dispute.”

·         “Ukraine left Russia long ago. And irreversible. “Noting connects them except perhaps Donbas gastarbeiters … Belarus too has left Russia finally and irreversible as well. In that case there aren’t even any gastarbeitrs – Belarus gets along completely without Russia …  For Ukkraine Turkey or Romania are more important. What can connect Georgia with Moscow or with Ryazan or even more with Siberia?  These are simply different planets.”

·         “What can connect us [Siberians] with Moscow, Suzdal or Voronezh? Nothing more than a citizen of California is linked to a resident of Longond or a Canadian from Montreal with a resident of Bristol or a New Zealander with a Scot … And we [Siberians] are much further from Rusian than the Canadians are from England, in every sense of the word.”


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