Sunday, April 26, 2020

Pandemic Seen Intensifying Anti-Moscow and Separatist Attitudes in Russia’s Regions

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 24 – Moscow’s assumption that its approach to the pandemic must be applied cookie-cutter fashion across the country even as the Kremlin insists the federal subjects take charge and the spread of the virus by Muscovites travelling outside their city have combined to intensify anti-Moscow and even separatist attitudes, Oksana Zaharova says.

            For the regions and republics, it is bad enough when they are ordered around by the Kremlin and the Russian government; but in this pandemic, Vladimir Putin’s decision to defer to Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin as his point man has someone ostensibly giving orders to the country who legally is at the same level as the heads of the other regions and republics.

            And at the same time, those coming from Moscow either to enforce the center’s will or fleeing from restrictions in the capital are violating local ordinances about isolation and spreading the infection. (For an especially egregious example, see

            Both of these things are especially offensive under the conditions of the coronavirus pandemic. Ukrainian commentator Zaharova says that in Russia’s regions, “people are tired of welcoming uninvited guests” from Moscow and are unceremoniously telling them to go back to where they came from (

            There are reports that these calls have been accompanied by direct threats in Tambov and Tver Oblasts, and there is the much-publicized suggestion by the Kurgan Oblast governor that talking about burning Muscovites at the stake does nothing to add to the region’s reputation even if all they are doing is trying to protect themselves from the pandemic.

            “The head of the Transbaikal Kray,” Zaharova continues, “has declined that in the region he heads there have been identified three people with coronavirus symptoms and all of them have come from Moscow. The mayor of Vologda says that all cases in his city” came either from there or the other Russian capital, St. Petersburg.

            Officials in Ivanovo Oblast have banned renting rooms to Muscovites, and those in Sakhalin, Irkutsk, Tomsk, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk “and a number of other regions” including Bashkortostan have imposed a two-week quarantine on anyone arriving from Moscow, the center of the virus in Russia.

            Such attitudes both reflect and intensify “centrifugal trends,” the Ukrainian analyst says. “The regions remain one on one with a problem” that Moscow has made clear it won’t help them with.  The people and officials in these regions now simply don’t want Moscow to make things worse by spreading the virus to them.

            In a commentary for Kyiv’s Mizhnarodnyi Kuryer, Dmitry Tor argues that the pandemic promoting “separatist trends” across the Russian Federation and that one can even say that “the epidemic is leading to the collapse of the country” (

            He suggests that there are three basic kinds: those in which separatist tendencies are based on nationality as in the case of the non-Russian republics, those with enormous natural resources that Moscow is taking away without compensating them for, and those “distant from the center” who are focusing on “foreign neighbors” rather than the Russian capital.

            Tor suggests that there are more autonomist and separatist movements than he can describe in a single article and that they involve not just non-Russians but ethnic Russians who want independence and separation from Moscow’s control. Repression gave rise to these feelings; the coronavirus is intensifying them.

            As a result, the Ukrainian analyst says, “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century threatens to continue in the 21st” with the incomplete disintegration that occurred in 1991 now being followed by a far more radical one.  And that means, he says, a world with many Russias or smaller states “threatens to become an alternative to Russia today.”

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