Staunton, November 26 – Many people assume that Vladimir Putin has wiped out national and regional aspirations for greater autonomy or even independence by his tough laws against any questioning of the external borders of the Russian Federation; but in fact, that is not the case, Vladimir Voronov says.
In a commentary for Radio Liberty, the Russian commentator says that the rise of government awards in the regions, of republic ‘citizenship,’ and of regional armies and ethnic battalions all suggest that much is going on just below the radar screen of Russian awareness (svoboda.org/a/28874801.html).
With regard to medals and orders, Voronov says, Russian law is clear: only the president of the country can give these out; but in fact, many leaders of republics and regions do as well. And it is clear that “the poorer the region and the more federal aid it receives, the more developed is the awards system and the more is spent” on them.
“Even a brief glance at local medal and order statistics undercuts the widespread notion that separatist attitudes were widespread during ‘the parade of sovereignties’ of the Yeltsin era but then ‘order has been restored.’” In fact, the situation is exactly the reverse, the commentator continues.
Under Yeltsin, nine regions – and in that case, they were all national republics -- created only one hero order, 12 other orders, and four medals. But now under Putin, “no fewer than 45 regions” have done so, almost all of the non-Russian republics and many predominantly Rusisan oblasts and krays as well.
There are at least 62 orders with varying degrees of honor, no fewer than 163 medals, and four gold stars of regional heroes “which are practically exact copies of the [Russian] state’s ‘Gold Stars,’” Voronov says.
This is the tip of the iceberg, he continues. Many non-Russian republics still retain constitutions that talk about citizenship for a once and future independent state. And perhaps most worrisome, some have de facto national armies. Ramzan Kadyrov of Chechnya has one – and he not Putin issues draft calls for the Russian army there.
Officials and commentators in Tatarstan discussed forming a military many years ago, and Voronov implies they may be ready to do so again when times seem propitious. More worrisome now, he suggests, is the formation of what is de facto an ethnic military unit within the Russian Army in Tyva, the homeland of defense minister Sergey Shoygu.
There, Tuvans make up more than 85 percent of the brigade; and there are proposals to create a special religious advisor for the unit, someone who because the Tuvans are Buddhist or animist almost certainly will be a Buddhist leader or perhaps even a shaman (19rus.info/index.php/obshchestvo/item/59996-khakasiya-torzhestvenno-prinyala-55-yu-motostrelkovuyu-brigadu).
Voronov is opposed to all of this, and what is perhaps most remarkable about his article is not his centralizing and even imperial views on Russia but the fact that his argument appeared on the Radio Liberty website, a place many in Moscow view as a source of support for regionalist and nationalist movements within the current borders of the Russian Federation.