Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Non-Russian Republics Aren’t the Only Internal Threats to Russia’s Territorial Integrity, Military Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 27 – Vladimir Putin’s denunciation of Lenin for giving the union republics the right to leave the USSR if they wanted to has focused the attention of Russian commentators on the non-Russian republics within the Russian Federation even though these do not have that right under the existing Russian Constitution.

            What this discussion should do, however, Oleg Odnokolenko, a military expert with “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” says, is focus attention on the predominantly Russian regions of the country that pose another and perhaps under some future circumstances equally severe threat to the Russian Federation (

            The analyst says that one should remember that Putin’s recent criticism of Lenin was not the first time the Kremlin leader has done this.  In 1991, he points out, “while working in the mayor’s office in St. Petersburg,” Putin said much the same thing, an indication that this has long been on his mind.

            “The makers of October 1917,” he said then, “laid a delayed action mine under the edifice of the unitary state which was called Russia. They split up our fatherland into individual principalities which in general never before figured on the map of the globe.  And they gave this principalities governments and parliaments.”

            Clearly, Putin is talking not just about the past but about the present and future, and his words call into question his support for the continued existence of the 22 republics now within the Russian Federation (if one adds occupied Crimea) to their number given that these in some cases say that the titular nationality has legal superiority over others.

            But no one should forget, Odnokolenko says, that problems can also arise from the Russian parts of the country as well.  “Within our country,” he points out, “there are also 46 oblasts, nine krays, four autonomous districts, three cities of federal significance and one autonomous oblast.”

            Like the Russian Federation’s republics, he continues, “they do not have the right on their own initiative to leave the [country] but on the other hand, they have their own governments with a full slate of ministries and thus the infrastructure is prepared for independent economic activity.”

            And because no one knows what will happen to the ruble or to the Russian economy as a whole, Odnokolenko says, “one cannot exclude the appearance of regional currencies like the Urals franc which had one time Eduard Rossel almost put into circulation. By the way,” he notes, “it was precisely national currencies [that] fixed the final disintegration of the USSR.”

            (During the 1990s, 750 local and regional governments in Russia issued their own currencies to cope with the economic crisis; and thousands more firms did the same thing. See “750 Republic and Local Governments in Russia Issued Their Own Currencies in the 1990s” at

            Unfortunately, he continues, these kind of things can’t be excluded in the future and the centrifugal forces have not been entirely reined in by the creation of the federal districts, in large measure, Odnokolenko argues, because they are not capable of dealing with inter-religious tensions between Russian Orthodox Christians and Muslims.

            The Bolsheviks had “a universal antidote” to that – “militant atheism, but when the leaders of the country stand in the church with candles, it is hardly applicable.” Nonetheless, “problems remain.” In Tatarstan, no one can decide where to put a church or a mosque “without scandals on a religious basis.” And Tatarstan is not the only place where that is true.

            “One more surprise left to us from the Red Army of the times of the Civil War are territorial-national formations which were disbanded in 1939 but were successfully restored after 1991.  Chechnya had its East and West battalions, and although they were disbanded in 2008, Ramzan Kadyrov maintains control of an MVD brigade.

            Formally, these units are subordinated to Moscow; but in fact, no Russian general could give an order and expect it to be fulfilled if Kadyrov was opposed.  That may be all right now given that Kadyrov and Putin have strong mutual attachments, “but who knows how things will work out if in the Kremlin there is another leadership.”

            In conclusion, Odnokolenko makes a swipe at two other things that some have identified as delayed action mines, but he is dismissive of both. The systemic opposition, he says, “is less like a bomb than a smoke screen device;” and the extra-systemic one is more like a firecracker than anything else. It makes a lot of noise and then does nothing.

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