Monday, December 10, 2018

‘Main Separatist’ Region in Russian Federation is Irkutsk Oblast, Bagdayev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 10 – One of the fundamental assumptions of most analysts about Russia beyond the Urals is that the threat of Chinese expansion there, economic, demographic and political, will undercut any interest in separatism there.  But Moscow’s concessions to China are now calling that assumption into question.

            Indeed, in at least some of the federal subjects in the region, including in particular those which are predominantly ethnic Russian, China’s moves are prompting separatist attitudes precisely because Moscow is viewed as helping Beijing rather than defending them against the growing presence in Siberia and the Russian Far East of the Chinese.

            And there is anger as well about the high-handed way in which Moscow has shifted some of the federal subjects from the Siberian federal district to the Far Eastern FD without taking into consideration the ways in which that will disrupt if not destroy existing ties among the subjects involved.

            Bato Bagdayev, a journalist and politician, addresses these issues head on in an interview with Irkutsk’s Babr news agency. In it, he addresses specifically “Irkutsk separatism,” a combination of words that few Russians or others ever expected to hear anyone discuss (

                Moscow’s decision to unite Buryatia with the Far Eastern FD is destroying economic ties between Irkutsk oblast which has Buryat concentrations within it and Buryatia, Bagdayev says.  Irkutsk is having its future compromised as a result and consequently, it “is the main separatist in Russia” because it has been cut out of the economic arrangements that had integrated it.

            Moreover, Bagdayev says, Moscow has allowed Chinese firms to act in the region in ways that no other country in Asia would allow. “Undoubtedly, the threat of Chinese expansion exists.  In a short time, you and I will be under the Chinese foot.” Already in many parts of Irkutsk and other federal subjects, everything is “in the hands of the Chinese.”

            What should have happened, he continues, is to form a larger combination of regions including both Irkutsk and Buryatia.  “Russia has a complex federative system. The highest status in this system belongs to a republic, then the kray, then the oblast, with the district at the other end.”

            “To lower the status of a republic by unification is politically impossible,” Bagdayev continues. “Therefore, in theory the Baikal region should be a republic consisting of three subjects of the federation. I would welcome this idea. However, the federal center would never agree to it” because it would become “a serious competitor to Moscow.”

                Even if Bagdayev is speaking mostly for himself, the discussion of such ideas not only undermines assumptions about Moscow’s ability to play the Chinese card against separatist ideas in the Russian Far East but also shows that ideas that many thought were unthinkable are now circulating and perhaps gaining support. 

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