Thursday, May 8, 2014

Window on Eurasia: ‘Russia Is Not a Multi-National Country,’ RISI Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 8 – Despite the declaration in the 1993 Constitution that the Russian Federation is a multi-national country, an expert at the influential Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISI) argues that in fact it is not that but rather a nation state of Russians with a few ethnic minorities.

            Ilya Anosov, the head of RISI’s Chelyabinsk Center, made that somewhat unexpected declaration following a meeting there devoted to the question “Why is there no fascism in the Southern Urals?” and based his claim on the fact that 80 percent of the population consists of ethnic Russians and that they define the nature of the country  (

            The idea that the Russian Federation should be a nation state of the Russians has been percolating for some time and has gained new energy as a result of the propaganda campaign the Kremlin has launched in support of its efforts to “defend” ethnic Russians abroad in Crimea, Ukraine and other places.

            But Anosov’s statement is important because  RISI is extremely influential in the Kremlin, and it suggests that the idea of re-writing the 1993 constitution to eliminate such references to multi-nationality, the basis of the country’s ethno-federal system may be gaining ground.

            Many Russian nationalists have long complained that the other former Soviet republics became nation states after 1991 while Russia alone remained a multi-national ethno-federal system.  The most radical of these have called for the elimination of all national republics within the country and the active promotion of Russianness among non-Russians.

            Vladimir Putin in the past has met them part way: he has sought to amalgamate the smaller non-Russian units with larger and predominantly ethnic Russian ones, he has pushed Russian language instruction at the expense of non-Russian classes, and he has “presented the country as “Russia,” often using that term in place of the more formal “Russian Federation.”

            But at the same time and taking note of the resistance of the non-Russians to any change, the Kremlin leader has slowed if not stopped his amalgamation effort the last several years, and now he has an additional reason: His seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea prompted him to talk about autonomy for that region, although such commentary that may be designed to further reduce the distinction between oblasts and krays, on the one hand, and republics, on the other.

            Were Putin to seek to rewrite the Russian Federation constitution on this point, he would gain some support from Russian nationalists but he would face opposition from the non-Russian nations who believe that the constitution’s declaration that Russia is a multi-national state  is one of the last lines of defense of their national existence.

            Putin’s often incautious discussions of Russianness clearly are encouraging people like Anosov and others within the country’s top leadership, but the certainty of non-Russian opposition, which could take the form of new independence movements, may act as a constraint unless the Russian president is prepared to impose an even more authoritarian regime than the one he already has.

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