Saturday, June 11, 2016

Regionalism Threatens Russia Today the Way Ethnic Separatism Did the USSR, Moscow Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 11 – Since the Soviet Union disintegrated, Moscow has been extremely sensitive to the challenges any ethnic separatism poses to the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation; but it must not ignore the growing threat of regionalist challenges based less on nationality than on territory, according to Sergey Aksyonov.

            If it does, it could find itself in a situation in which these challenges could prove to be a greater threat to the survival of the Russian Federation than any of the existing ethnic ones; and because that is so, the “Russkaya planeta” commentator says, any means against the regionalists, however harsh, are fully justified (

            Of what he says are the “many” regionalist challenges to Moscow, Aksoyonov focuses on the Ingermanland movement around St. Petersburg in Russia’s northwest, the Pomor Republic “on the shores of the White Sea,” and the United States of Siberia -- which intriguingly, he doesn’t put in quotation marks – throughout Russia east of the Urals

            The Ingermanland movement has attracted great attention lately because of the arrest of Artem Chebotaryev, one of its online community leaders. (For background on the movement and the new case, see Aksonyov offers some interesting comments.

            The authorities arrested Chebotaryev less because he called himself a “Russian-speaking Banderite” than because he displayed the flag of Ingermanland, Aksyonov says. They know that this flag reflects centrifugal aspirations that broke out twice in the last century: first during the Russian civil war and then when the Russian state was in a weakened position in the 1990s.

            Over the last 20 years, “separatism-lite” has spread throughout the liberal segment of the intelligentsia of the northern capital, involving such people as the late Galina Starovoitova and the still very active Vitaly Milonov.  Much of this is just cultural snobbery of Petersburg residents toward the center, but some of it is more politically serious.

            The Ingermanland flag is symbolic of this political dimension: it resembles the Swedish flag and its appearance is intended to promote the idea that Ingermanland should become a fourth Scandinavian country. Moreover, those who support this also support secessionist referendums in Catalonia in Spain.

            Within Russia, the backers of Ingermanland have an obvious political agenda, Aksyonov says. Their hashtag, IBS, stands for “Ingermanland will be  free” and thus recalls the earlier Ukrainian hashtag, SUGUS, “Glory to Ukraine, to its heroes, glory! Now under this slogan,” he says, “they are killing Russians.”

            Regionalists in northern Russia have adopted a special approach to push their goals: they have “created” a new ethnic group where one never existed and thus are using it to oppose Russia and Russians, Aksyonov says.  (For background on the Pomor movement, see and

            The intellectual founding father of Pomor ethno-regionalism, the Russkaya planeta writer says, was Vladimir Bulatov, who prior to his death in 2007 was rector of the Pomor University which he transformed into a hotbed of Pomor nationalism by insisting that the Pomors are a separate nation with a separate language and have been denied their rights by the Russians.
            This movement may seem an exoticism to many Russians, Aksyonov says, but it is taking off, attracting young people and even businessmen with an interest in the north. If Moscow continues to ignore this, he implies, the situation will only get worse; and the center will have only itself to blame for the outcome.

            And Aksyonov points to a third challenge: Siberian regionalism, a set of ideas which trace their origins back to the middle of the 19th century and stress how different Siberians are from Russians and how much they have suffered under Moscow’s “colonial” rule. (See and

            Siberian regionalists today “consider themselves part  of a special Siberian nation” and believe that eventually they will be “citizens of a sovereign Siberian Republic, rich and free from Moscow’s dominance.” Had the tsars, commissars and now Russian democrats not opposed them, they say, they would already be independent.

            “In the post-Soviet period,” Aksyonov continues, “this myth has again revived and found new and unexpected supporters among young people of the major cities” who talk about “’a United States of Siberia’” and even have a special Siberian flag with snowflakes as stars and green and white stripes rather than red and white ones.

            What the Siberian regionalists have achieved already, the commentator says, is promoting the idea of the distinctiveness and separateness of Siberians from Russians.  But they have done more than that: exploiting Moscow’s call for the federalization of Ukraine, they have promoted federalization in Russia itself.
            Among the places where this regionalist impulse has spread are Kuban and especially Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave in which many now are talking about becoming a fourth Baltic state. (See , and

            “As we see,” Aksyonov argues, “any movement toward separation on the basis of local identity, real or invented, is extremely attractive for part of the intelligentsia which dreams of becoming the leaders of a new independent or at least autonomous territory. Siberia, Ingermanland, the Pomor Republic, it really doesn’t matter which.”

            If such people aren’t opposed, they can be counted on to continue their destructive work, he argues. He cites Gary Kasparov’s recent observation that “The Soviet Union fell apart and nothing terrible happened” to make his case. Kasparov may think that, Aksyonov says; but Russians clearly do not.

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