Staunton, March 31 – Confronted with
Moscow’s seizure of Crimea and its demands for the federalization of Ukraine, the
Ukrainian foreign ministry has countered by calling for every republic within
the Russian Federation to hold a referendum about their future status and possible
Moscow has been pushing for the federalization
of Ukraine for two reasons. On the one hand, federalization of Ukraine, given
that predominantly ethnic Russian federal subjects would be adjacent to the
Russian Federation, would give Moscow permanent leverage on Kyiv and prevent
the integration of Ukrainian identity and the Ukrainian political system.
And on the other, the federalization
of Ukraine is something Moscow feels it can use and expect to get support for
both because it is a federation and because the United States not only is a
federal system but has often pressed others to adopt federal arrangements as a
means of sharing power with various groups and areas within a state.
But there are two problems with this
Russian position: the Russian Federation is a federation in name only. There is
no fiscal or legal federalism – Vladimir Putin has done everything he can to
eliminate even the beginnings of either after 1991. And consequently, its push
for “federalism for export” is suspect on its face.
And the other is that federal
systems are both rare and difficult to create, a reality many in the US have
been slow to recognize. At present, only
about one country in ten has a federal system even nominally, and those that do
have taken decades or longer to create the constitutional, legal and even more
societal supports for power sharing on a territorial basis.
Without that foundation, as the
Russian experience shows, every effort to build power locally looks to the
center like the first step toward secession, and every effort to build power in
the center looks to the periphery like another move toward return toward hyper-centralization,
thus creating a situation which is unstable by its very nature.
As a counter to this Russian push to
permanently injure their country by seizing part of it and making another part
a place for continued Russian interference, the Ukrainian foreign ministry has
called on the Russian Federation to live up to its own principles and even have
referenda in its non-Russian republics about the future (turkist.org/2014/03/rf-referendum.html).
Before instructing others, the
foreign ministry says, Russia should improve the situation in its own country with
respect to national minorities, many of whom are sadly without the rights in
fact that the Russian constitution specifies and that they as human communities
have every right to demand.
“Why shouldn’t Russia give real and
not declarative content to federalism” in its own country? the Ukrainian
foreign ministry asks. Moreover, it
continues, “why should [Russia] not conduct referenda about broad autonomy and
if necessary about independence in the national subjects of the federation?”
At a minimum, Kyiv says, Moscow
ought to think about giving languages other than Russian the status of state
languages, a step it has demanded of Ukraine and other countries but has not
been willing to take itself.
Given that and given the aggressive stance
of Moscow toward Ukraine more generally, it is obvious that “this aggressor is demanding
only one thing: the complete capitulation of Ukraine, its division, and the
destruction of Ukrainian statehood. Namely in that way and in no other” are
Russia’s demands evaluated in Ukraine.
Russia, of course, has a long
history of making demands on others that it is in no way ready to fulfill for
its own people. But even though the
Ukrainian counter-suggestion is not going to find support in Moscow or – one fears
– in the West, it does have the effect of highlighting the duplicity of the Kremlin
and the problems Moscow itself faces.
There are 21 non-Russian national
republics inside the borders of the Russian Federation. They are increasingly
non-Russian given Russian flight and non-Russian fertility rates. Many have all
the conditions necessary for independence, save having been made union
republics in Soviet times, the precondition the West decided was the limit of
self-determination in 1991.
Some in the Caucasus have already
taken up arms to press for independence, Chechnya being only the most dramatic
in that regard. Others like Tatarstan, which like Chechnya refused to sign the
Russian Federation treaty, have large groups within their populations who want
independence. And still others want at least a re-division of power and fiscal
arrangements in their favor.
Moreover – and this is especially
important now – many non-Russians in these republics are horrified and angry
about the increasingly xenophobic ideology of the Kremlin, an ideology that both
puts them at risk of attacks by Russian groups and leaves them as second-class
citizens in what has been their own country.
Indeed, at the present time, the suggestion of
the Ukrainian foreign ministry about what should happen in the Russian
Federation deserves the support of all those who favor freedom and a law-based
state; the demands of the Russian Federation in contrast are, given their
obvious motivation, unworthy of any discussion whatsoever.