Saturday, February 22, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Moscow's Approach to Ukraine Seen Exacerbating Ethnic Conflicts inside Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 22 –Moscow’s involvement in Ukrainian events not only guarantees that Ukrainians will become more anti-Russian and that Russia will be increasingly isolated internationally. Moscow’s role there is exacerbating ethnic tensions in the Russian Federation by leading to the rise of extremist Russian nationalist attitudes, policies and organizations.

            In a lead article in this week’s “Zvezda Povolzhya,” Rashit Akhmetov, the editor of that independent Kazan paper, says that past history suggests that Russians within Russia will want to blame someone close by for the defeat they feel they have suffered abroad, all the more so because of the worsening economic situation in their own country.

            That is all the more likely given the promotion of nationalist thematics by the Moscow regime and could, the editor suggests, lead to the emergence of contemporary analogues to the notorious late-tsarist-era anti-Semitic Union of the Russian People and Union of the Arkhangel Michael.

            As Marx pointed out, Akhmetov continues, history often repeats itself, the first time as tragedy and the second as farce.  But the re-emergence of such attitudes and groups, especially if they believe that they enjoy the backing of the Russian government, could lead to some increasingly serious clashes.

            In the past in Russia, those unhappy about their fate for whatever reason tended to blame the Jews for all their problems, he writes. But today such people are beginning to blame “all Muslims and Tatarstan” for them and to believe that “liquidating” the non-Russian republics will be “a panacea” for all of Russia’s difficulties.

            Not only does such a campaign ignore the Russian constitution and the desires of peoples like the Tatars who make a major contribution to the Russian economy, Akhmetov says, but it has taken on such absurd forms that it is difficult not to view what Moscow is doing as anything more than grasping at straws.

            He gives numerous examples of what Russian officials have been doing in Tatarstan in recent days but suggests that perhaps the most absurd are the suggestions of some of these people that a Tatar who likes the Beatles is a Wahhabi and that Kazan which has an Orthodox church next to a mosque is fundamentally intolerant.

            Akhmetov rests his analysis on the experience of the Soviet Union.  Whenever the USSR interfered in the affairs of neighboring countries, “each time this led to serious negative consequences for the country.”  After Hungary in 1956, Khrushchev’s thaw was cut back. After Czechoslovakia in 1968, the USSR stagnated.  And events in Eastern Europe in the 1980s played back into the Soviet Union as well.

            Has not the fate of the USSR taught anyone anything? the Kazan editor asks. And has no one reflected that “the restoration of the USSR [would bring with it] the restoration of all the complex problems of the USSR?”  Apparently not, at least in the Kremlin, he suggests. And then he adds one more damning indictment of what Moscow is doing.

            “In the 21st century,” he writes, “a feudal strategy based on the fist does not have good prospects and will lead sooner or later only to defeat,” both abroad and within the borders of the country whose government uses this out-of-date method.


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