Saturday, September 12, 2015

Moscow’s New Nationalities Agency Taking Power Away from Regions and Their Leaders Aren’t Happy

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 11 – One of the reasons Moscow has always had difficulty in setting up a nationalities ministry is that if it has enough power to do its job, it will threaten other agencies; but if it doesn’t, it will remain only a largely decorative body that holds meetings and makes declarations.

            The new federal Agency for Nationality Affairs is no exception. In the Russian capital, it has not yet been able to gain enough power to become a threat to other ministries; but beyond the ring road and with Moscow’s approval, it is taking powers away from regional officials and they not surprisingly are unhappy about that.

            Olga Balyuk describes this back and forth on the portal.  She notes that the new federal agency “has chosen the Middle Urals to test its new system of monitoring ethnic conflicts” because of the large number of ethnic groups in Sverdlovsk oblast and because the agency’s head Igor Barinov is from there (

            But the agency’s choice of the region for its pilot project deprives “regional officials of part of their authority” and consequently they are anything but pleased, an indication of how regional officials elsewhere may react if the Agency for Nationality Affairs seeks to extend its network more broadly.

            Up to now, regional governments controlled reporting about the situation in their areas, something that gave them a chance to put the best spin on things and thus avoid intervention from the center. But Moscow clearly feels they have hid too much or acted too slowly and hence has decided on this new system.

            In presenting it to officials of Sverdlovsk oblast, Barinov said that sometimes “the reaction of the authorities” to conflicts at their early stage has been “inadequate.” That is something that can no longer be tolerated because, he said, “we see what is happening in Ukraine where in the course of a short period of time these shattered an enormous country.”

            Vladimir Putin, he continued, ordered the creation of a new monitoring system which would “not talk about conflicts only after the fact but warn about them in advance.”  He gave that order in 2012, and the regional development ministry and culture ministry went to work “but nothing came of their efforts.” Hence the new Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs.”

            Barinov said that his agency had drawn on the work of these two ministries and also on the Russian Academy of Science, the defense ministry “and other organizations.” It will sign agreements with regional institutions who will supply data, but it will add its own and sum up the findings.

            “We will relieve the regions of the task of collecting information which often has been unreliable,” Barinov continued. And “we ourselves will deal with the information” that will then be sent “upwards.” In short, while regional officials may supply some information, they will lose control over how it is processed and evaluated.

            Dmitry Savelyev, who heads the agency’s monitoring administration, says that the new system will focus on “points with heightened conflict potential.”  “Any public event,” he said, could fall into this category, and his staff will classify it as being high, medium or low risk of leading to ethnic conflicts.

            Had this system been in place in advance of the Biryulevo events, Savelyev continued, “it would have been possible to avoid pogroms and mass detentions already at 11:00 am on the morning of the first day” when there appeared the first reports of people saying that “’a person from the Caucasus had killed a Russian.’”
            Barinov for his part said that he hoped to have the system up and running in Sverdlovsk by the end of the year. Then it will be extended to the Khanty-Mansiisk autonomous oblast and Russian-occupied Crimea.

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