Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Separatist Talk Works for Kremlin Tactically But Not Strategically, Svyatenkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 26 – The recent explosion of talk about the possible disintegration of the Russian Federation works for the Kremlin at a tactical level by allowing the leadership to introduce constitutional change, buy it works against the Kremlin strategically by making separatism seem an entirely ordinary political option, according to Pavel Svyatenkov.

            In article on KM.ru, Svyatenkov, who writes frequently on Russian nationalism, argues that in this regard, the current discussion recalls the pattern of developments during the final years of the Soviet Union (km.ru/v-rossii/2013/11/21/obshchestvenno-politicheskaya-zhizn-v-rossii/725724-zachem-vlast-priuchaet-nas-k).

            On the one hand, Svyatenkov says, the Kremlin is once again seeking to use such discussions to justify and even power specific changes that it has in mind; but on the other, it is by promoting these discussions creating a new reality, one in which separatism is viewed by ever more people not as something out of the question but as one choice among many others.

            The nationalist writer approaches this issue by suggesting there are three possible explanations for what is going on. According to the first, the media circus about separatism “means nothing” because “the integrity of the country is an important value for the overwhelming majority of the population.”

            Representatives of 199 peoples live “freely and peacefully” in a multi-national federation alongside “one which does not exist and does not have a Motherland.” The last, of course, consists of the Russians, although even mentioning them is “extremely politically incorrect.”

            The country’s problems are elsewhere: “the powers that be already do not know how to justify the current state system and their right to rule. Therefore, they are exploiting everything” -- from memories about the Great Victory, which looks less great given that Germans have larger pensions than Russians, to talk about Russian unity and possible disintegration.

            According to another explanation of what is going on, Svyatenkov says, Vladimir Putin is thinking about re-writing the constitution and has to create a justification for doing so.  In that event, “a campaign in support of the integrity of the country makes sense, but this version seems most improbable,” he says, given the Kremlin’s deference to many non-Russian republics.

            And consequently, a third explanation suggests itself. According to the regionalist writer, it is “the saddest but the most likely” even though it involves a certain amount of “conspiracy” thinking and requires going back to what was taking place at the end of Soviet times.

            Then, there as talk about disintegration everywhere, but “the Soviet authorities were struggling in an intensify way with the dismemberment of the country by introducing clever new rules by which the USSR was to be preserved.” But the outcome of these new rules, as everyone now knows, was that the Soviet Union fell apart.

            Svyatenkov gives as an example Mikhail Gorbachev’s Novo-Ogaryevo process which sought to come up with a new union treaty among the heads of the republics and thus save the USSR as a “renewed” union.  What he failed to notice was that the old union treaty hadn’t worked since 1936, and calling for a new one transformed a constitutionally-based state into one based on a treaty alone.

            In contrast to a constitutional federation, the Russian writer argues, a treaty federation can “cease its existence” if those who sign it decide to take that step which is exactly what Yeltsin, Kravchuk and Shushkevich did after Gorbachev “by a light hand” opened the door to that possibility.

            Are we not at the beginning of “an analogous process,” Svyatenkov asks, one in which the regime’s obsession with disintegration and the creation of a national idea are not “forcing people to think constantly that disintegration is close and possible,” that it is “’inevitable’” with Russians again saying “’better a terrible end than terrible things without an end.”

            Russians should take note that no one in Kazakhstan or in Ukraine talks about disintegration, “even though with regard to these states, such logic applies 100 times more than in relation to Russia. And they should recognize that whatever tactical advantages the regime gets from such talk, it loses strategically and that should be avoided.

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