Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Putin Names Merkushkin to New Post to Counter Foreign Influence among Russia’s Finno-Ugric Nations

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 27 – Vladimir Putin has named Nikolay Merkushkin, the man he just replaced as Samara governor to be his special representative to the upcoming World Congress of Finno-Ugric Peoples, an assignment many will see as a consolation prize but that reflects growing concern about the Finno-Ugric peoples within the Russian Federation.

            The position Merkkushkin will now occupy, Komsomolskaya Pravda notes, is a new one: Putin has not had such a representative to these peoples before. And it suggests that the former Samara governor has been assigned the increasingly difficult task of keeping the Finno-Ugric peoples of Russia in line (

            The paper says that Merkushkin’s position is especially important now because foreign efforts to influence the Finno-Ugric peoples of Russia are comparable only with attempts to influence the Muslim regions of the country.”

            “The Finno-Ugric republics of the Russian Federation,” it continues, include “Mordvinia (from which Merkushkin, a Mordvin, comes, Karelia, Komi, Udmurtia, and Mari El. In addition, the Khanty-Mansiisk, Nenets and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Districts are all part of Finno-Ugric world within Russia. 

            The paper adds that “in these regions are concentrated major military-industry,” as well as large reserves of coal, oil, gas and timber.  And they are the focus of the three Finno-Ugric countries – Estonia, Finland and Hungary – all of which argue that the Finno-Ugric peoples would be better off if they were more politically active and ultimately independent of Russia.

            These countries, the paper says, promote their influence “via the cultural and scientific elite of the republics and via religious missionaries, including the establishment of Lutheran parishes in the Orthodox Russian Finno-Ugric regions and via inviting students to study” abroad in these Finno-Ugric lands.

            What Putin wants, Komsomolskaya Pravda suggests, is to have Merkushkin reign in such efforts and do everything he can to ensure “the preservation and development of the culture and traditions of the peoples while at the same time parrying the efforts of political and religious influence from abroad.”

            Dmitry Soloninkov, a political scientist who specializes on the Finno-Ugric peoples, says that Merkushkin’s task is not an easy one. Indeed, he tells the Regnum news agency that the former Samara governor will have to use all his political skills to navigate “the swamp” that exists among the Finno-Ugrics (

            He argues that Moscow brought this problem upon itself because according to him “linguists in Moscow and St. Petersburg” in the 1930s invented “the artificial languages” these people speak and thus not only created the basis for ethnic statehood but put “a delayed action mine” under the Russian Federation.

            (Soloninkov’s statement is without foundation. The Finno-Ugric peoples who now live within the borders of the Russian Federation have ancient languages and were living where they do now centuries before Russians appeared. Indeed, the name of the Russian capital is in the view of many experts a Finno-Ugric word.)

            Now, the three Finno-Ugric states are exploiting this unfortunate situation, one he describes as consisting of “a new fake culture” and Moscow through the person of Merkushkin is going to have to fight it far more intensively than it has up to now.

            Two recent developments suggest that the Russian government is already moving in that direction. On the one hand, it is putting Russian officials in what are nominally NGO bodies among the Finno-Ugrics, thus restoring the notorious Soviet system of GONGOS in this area (

            And on the other, there are indications that Moscow is moving far more cautiously in dealing with language issues among the Finno-Ugrics, an indication that the central government may fear that any precipitant action would provoke the kind of reaction it certainly does not want to see (

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