Staunton, December 19 – Legislation working its way through the Duma – it has now passed on second reading – which imposes penalties on anyone who calls for the independence of one or another part of the Russian Federation is not intended to stop anyone from calling for that country to absorb parts or all of neighboring states, according to its author.
Yuri Sinelshchikov, who serves on the Duma’s committee on civil, criminal, arbitrage and procedural legislation, said on the Russian News Service that the bill he drafted is directed only at those whose statements and activities threaten the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation (rusnovosti.ru/news/296190/).
The territorial integrity of Russia, he said, is “not violated if territories are added to it.” In short, a law intended to protect Russia offers no protection to others. Given the occasionally expansive comments of President Vladimir Putin and others about restoring a single state in Eurasia, Sinelshchikov’s words are certain to generate more calls for modifying Russia’s borders by expansion.
An example of just how provocative those could be in the tinderbox of the Caucasus was provided yesterday when an Armenian news service reported that a Russian expert had said that “a direct border between Russia and Armenia will exist and that this will happen in the immediate future” (news.am/rus/news/186068.html).
The only way for that to happen, of course, would be for Russia to expand its borders southward through the Republic of Georgia.
In fact, Mikhail Chernov, the deputy director of the Moscow Center for Strategic Conjunctions, did not quite say what the Armenian source suggested, but his choice of words is disturbing enough in a region that has already seen border changes imposed by the force of Russian arms.
According to Chernov, “there are three Caucasuses: the Eastern Caucasus of Daghestan and Azerbaijan, the Central Caucasus which includes the Russian regions of the North Caucasus – Chechnya, North and South Osetia, as well as a significant part of Georgia and Armenia, and the Western Caucasus which includes western Georgia and Abkhazia.”
“For the normal functioning and the security in the region, Russia needs direct access to Armenia to support the Russian military base in Gyumri.” “Many in Armenia have doubts about how it will function in the Customs Union and Eurasian Union without a common border with Russia and other countries of the European Union.”
They needn’t be, he says. The current situation is “not for long” because Russia will develop Trans-Caucasian transportation corridors. Chernov, of course, may mean nothing more than promoting cross-border international trade, but the Armenian reaction shows how at least some are more likely to see his words as implying and thus threatening something more.