Saturday, March 23, 2019

Five Ways Non-Russian Republics Can Resist Moscow’s Plans to Abolish Them

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 22 – The non-Russian republics are not in a strong position to resist Moscow’s plans to rewrite the constitution and eliminate them, Shamil Sabirov says. Their objections in 1993 to the current constitution’s equation of them with oblasts and krays were ignored and any open resistance almost certainly would be crushed.

            But that doesn’t mean, the commentator says, that they should fatalistically accept the destruction of the republics which would lead to the destruction of the nations on which they are based because in fact, they do have some resources at their disposal with which to resist the new wave of Muscovite imperialism (

            According to Sabirov, there are at least five:

First, the non-Russian republics can appeal to international law and to bodies like the United Nations which exist to promote it.  The UN Charter requires its members to support the right of nations to self-determination. Destroying the republics would violate this principle, and the UN could be an important ally in preventing Moscow from doing so.   

The experience of non-Russian republics shows how this can work. When the Komi-Permyak national autonomous district was liquidated as part of Vladimir Putin’s regional amalgamation plan, “practically all the ethno-cultural and educational infrastructure there was eliminated, the number of Komi-Permyaks fell catastrophically and their language was put at the edge of disappearance.”

A counter example also makes the necessary point, Shabirov says. Moscow’s efforts to fold in Adygeya into Krasnoyarsk kray failed because the Circassians appealed to international bodies. And in 2008, similar appeals blocked the final inclusion of the Khanty-Mansiisk and Yamalo-Nenets districts from being absorbed by Tyumen oblast. 

“Unfortunately, at present, almost no republic of the Russian federation has authoritative experts and international lawyers who are involved with the UN organs, except for links with UNESCO.” That needs to change and quickly if the non-Russian republics are to make use of this means of defense.

 Second, the republics need to cooperate with one another and develop a common position on key issues so that they can stand together against Moscow rather than be picked off one by one. They can work together in the Federal Assembly, via political parties, and through the expert communities to promote this common front.

Third, the republics need to overcome what Shabirov calls “the crisis” in legal scholarship in the republics, given that the number of specialists in federalism in the republics is if anything smaller now than it was two decades ago.  Moscow has its own specialists; the non-Russian republics need to take immediate steps to ensure that they have their own to counter.

Fourth, the non-Russian republics need to face up to the fact that many Russians will support their liquidation unless there is resistance and unless the non-Russians make it clear that Russians and Russia will suffer if the destruction of the non-Russian republics goes ahead as it appears Moscow now wants.

The creation of the non-Russian republics was a key means of keeping the USSR together; their destruction will constitute a threat to the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, exactly the reverse of the argument that many in Moscow are making and that many Russians have come to believe.

And fifth, the republics need to dramatically increase their use of media, blogs and Telegram channels “both within the republics and at the federal level.”  Now, they are a marginal presence. Changing that will ensure that both non-Russians and Russians recognize the dangers ahead of Moscow does try to suppress the republics.

Of course, if Moscow wants to ignore international law and its own interests, it can suppress the republics by force. But the first will further isolate Russia internationally; and the second will mean that the Russian Federation itself will be increasingly at risk, with the nationality question becoming ever more important and open.

At the end of his article in which he discusses each of these five in detail, Shabirov says that “the main thing is that all of this counter-movement cannot occur without the involvement of the ordinary people of the republics.” They will not want to sit still while their ships sink, even if Moscow-installed captains seem inclined to allow that to happen.

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