Friday, August 23, 2019

Regionalism and Federalism Won’t Lead to Russia’s Disintegration, Expert in Finland Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 20 – There is no basis for the widespread Russian belief that the growth of regionalism or the development of federalism will lead to the disintegration of the Russian Federation, according to Jeremy Smith, a specialist on the former Soviet space at the University of Eastern Finland.

            He tells Ramazan Alpaut of Radio Liberty’s IdelReal portal that there are many examples – “including the USSR itself at certain times” – “when strong federalism was a sufficiently successful model of the state over a long period of time” and the fact that the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia fell apart along federal lines is not an argument against that.

            Instead, Smith says, economics and other factors played the primary roles in those outcomes. That they fell apart along the borders that had been part of earlier federal systems was a matter more of an accident or a convenience than being the main cause of the demise of these countries (

            “Russian nationalist organizations often declare that ethnic Russians encounter discrimination in employment and other economic opportunities in the republics,” the Finnish professor continues; “but the real situation is not so tragic and there are no weighty reasons to suppose ethnic Russians would suffer from greater independence of the regions from the center.”

            Smith makes five other observations about the territorial integrity of Russia and the future:

1.      “The population of Russia will be against the further territorial expansion of the country. Crimea was an exception.” 

2.      “It is probable that Russia will completely annex Abkhazia and South Ossetia since this would be a formalization of the situation in fact. The West has done little in order to restrain Moscow from taking such actions on these territories.”

3.      Moscow does not believe that it is engaging in double standards with regard to ethnic groups. It simply makes a sharp distinction between “’big’” nations and “’small’” ones. The former in its view should have more rights than the latter.

4.      The OSCE has been the chief European institution for addressing ethnic issues in Russia. Its existence has allowed European states and the EU to avoid having to take a more active role.

5.      Non-Russians often seek to join the Russian elite. In most places, people would rather be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a large one; but in Russia, the situation is different because seeking to be a big fish in a small pond can mean that one won’t survive politically.

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