Saturday, December 19, 2015

Is Moscow So Afraid of Buryat Separatism That It Might Risk Uniting It with Irkutsk Oblast?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 19 – Some in Moscow are sufficiently afraid of losing control over Buryatia that they are considering amalgamating the republic with the predominantly Russian Irkutsk Oblast, a step that if it were mishandled could easily provoke an even greater outburst of Buryat-Mongol nationalism than leaving the situation alone.

            Several weeks ago, Maksim Bakulyev, an Irkutsk commentator, said some in the Russian capital were considering joining the two federal subjects because Moscow had not figured out another way to deal with the victory of the KPRF in Irkutsk and nationalism in Buryatia (

            Now, Bakulyev says in a new article that the Kremlin may take this step as early as next year and stresses that there are broader factors involved including economic calculations and fears about the growing influence of pan-Mongol ideas among the Buryats who are closely related to the Khalka Mongols of Mongolia (

            Originally, the Russian Empire ran the entire region from a single center, dividing it up only in Soviet times, he points out. But that division has had negative consequences both economic and political. Economically, it has left Buryatia without inexpensive power and thus the capacity to exploit its natural resources while leaving Irkutsk with a smaller market.

            And politically, it has meant that the issue of whether Buryatia must have an ethnic Buryat as its head and to what degree ethnic Russians can or should be integrated into the Ulan-Ude political establishment unresolved along with the question of how to integrate two Buryat districts under Irkutsk.

            Because of the economic situation, there were plans on the table in Moscow in the 1990s to unite the two federal subjects, but politics, including ethnic politics, got in the way, Bakulyev says. The Soviets had imposed ethnic Russian leaders on Buryatia to “block the possible growth of nationalism,” a locally unpopular approach that has continued to this day.

            Now, however, Moscow has another worry, the Irkutsk commentator says.  “Buryatia neighbors Mongolia, the Mongols and Buryats genetically are a single nation, and they have a common language, common habits and a common mentality.”

            Moreover, he says, “in nationalist circles of Mongolia, the question of the possible unification of a single people in the borders of ‘Greater Mongolia’ is regularly raised. These attitudes are no secret in Buryatia and often find understanding both among the population and in political circles.”

            “As a result, there is growing a practically irresolvable political contradiction between the striving of the Buryat population to see an ethnic Buryat as head of Buryatia and the fear of Moscow of losing control over the region.” And some in Moscow see uniting Buryatia and Irkutsk Oblast as a way out.

            Economically, each could benefit; but politically, it all depends on how the unification is carried out. Some Buryats want the capital to be in Ulan-Ude and the new larger federal subject to be called Buryatia, a step that would alienate many ethnic Russians and likely lead to more ethnic Russian flight, thus exacerbating Moscow’s problems.

            Russians in Irkutsk and likely Moscow as well want the capital of the new subject to be in Irkutsk and the name to be Russian, not Mongol. Among the supporters of unification are Aleksandr Khloponin, a Russian deputy premier, and Sergey Chemezov of Rostekh. Among the opponents are the KPRF in Irkutsk and many Buryat nationalists.

            The Buryat information portal’s Tatyana Rodionova has interviewed two experts about the possibility of unity.  Aleksey Mikhalyov, a regional specialist, says that unity would be fine as long as the new subject is called Buryatia and the capital is in Ulan-Ude (

            Moreover, he continues, the ethnic borders within the new entity would have to be drawn carefully lest it provoke an explosion. Today, however, all this is “impossible” because it would require “a powerful ideological preparation” which no one seems prepared to undertake as well as major investments for which there is no money.

            Consequently, Mikhalyov says, Buryatia was be preserved and strengthened, possibly with the addition of new territories “to the extent that it is the foundation of national stability in the region.”

            Erdem Dagbayev, a political scientist at Buryat State University, agrees both about the prospects for such unification and the need for Buryatia to strengthen itself. He suggests that Bakulyev’s articles are either a political provocation by Irkutsk or a form of self-advertisement by the Irkutsk journalist who is playing on a worn-out theme.
А вот что думает по этому поводу заведующий кафедрой политологии

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