Staunton, October 17 – Most Russians and most Russian officials are focusing on threats to the country emanating from abroad, including sanctions and military confrontation with the West, but a far greater threat to Russia’s territorial integrity and political independence is emerging within its own borders, according to Ruslan Gorevoy.
That threat is emerging in the Middle Volga where the actions of officials in Bashkortostan and Tatarstan point to the emergence of a new “parade of sovereignties” like the one that weakened the Russian Federation and almost tore it apart a generation ago (versia.ru/razvalivat-rossiyu-skoree-budut-ne-izvne-a-iznutri).
The dangers from Ufa and Kazan might appear to be different, the Russian commentator says; but while the first is one of omission and the second is one of commission, they re-enforce one another and are having a powerful impact not just in the two Turkic Middle Volga republics but in other non-Russian republics and predominantly ethnic Russian regions as well.
A few days ago in Bashkortostan, Gorevoy says, the FSB detained what it called “an ethnic organized criminal group” consisting of 135 members. In fact, Gorevoy says, this was “a full-blown terrorist organization” given that Russian officers discovered seven underground printing facilities to produce subversive literature and false documents.
Moreover, he continues, among those detained were members of the Bashkir nationalist organizations, Kuk Bure, an indication that the group was not simply a criminal organization like any other but one with political goals, including -- if the Kuk Bure website is to be believed -- independence for that republic.
What is worrisome about this, Gorevoy continues, is that he and others in Moscow had warned about the coming together of criminal and nationalist groups in Bashkortostan “but the republic’s law enforcement personnel openly ignored these appeals.” Now, the federal police have intervened, but the attitude of republic officials likely means there are other such groups.
More immediately serious and political, the commentator continues, is what happened last week in Latvia when Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov told Riga officials that Kazan would continue to use Latvian ports in its trade with the West despite Moscow’s efforts to end such trade.
“’What was this?’ the Regnum news agency asked rhetorically. ‘An open fronde against the foreign policy line of Russia? A playing with the six of Brussels and Washington to show that not everyone in Russia thinks “like Putin”? Or an open declaration that Tatarstan is not part of Russia?’” (regnum.ru/news/polit/2189833.html).
Quoting these words, Gorevoy says there can be no doubt as to what was and is going one: Tatarstan is testing Moscow to see what the center will allow and what it won’t. “If Moscow in fact does not take notice and adopt the toughest organizational and cadres measures, it will demonstrate its weakness.”
And that in turn, the Russian commentator says, will “send a signal to all the subjects [of the Russian Federation] who want to raise their status. If the center does not slam its fist on the table in a timely manner, then a start will be given to the irreversible disintegration of the Russian Federation.”
Tatarstan has “a unique statue within Russia,” he says, a status which no other republic has at least not yet. Kazan has a power-sharing agreement with the center that makes the country a kind of confederation, one that “precedes the status of dominion and in fact of an independent state, which recognizes the power of the center only formally and as much as it profits Kazan.”
Consequently when the president of Tatarstan makes the kind of statements he did in Riga, that will “provoke other regions to seek a status analogous to that which Tatarstan already has.” That will be difficult to stop if it is not nipped in the bud. And if it isn’t, there won’t be long to wait for “’a parade of sovereignties.’”
“Regional separatism,” Gorevoy says, “is an abscess” on the body of Russia. It is going to be difficult and expensive to counter. And the question has to be asked whether given the money Moscow is spending in Ukraine and Syria, whether the center will have enough to be able to cope with this far larger threat at home.