Saturday, July 25, 2020

Protests by Russians East of the Urals Product of Unique Features of Russian Imperialism, Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 23 – In 1991, Moscow allowed the departure of an ethnically different periphery but not an ethnically similar one, and thus faces exactly the opposite course or historical development as did European powers who lost the ethnically similar colonies first and held on to the ethnically dissimilar ones by force for far longer, Vladislav Inozemtsev says.

            What the economist calls Russia’s “imperial trap” reflects this as can be seen if one compares Moscow’s in recent decades with that of London further in the past. The British, for example, ceded independence to ethnically similar North America, Australia and New Zealand long before they gave up ethnically different India and African colonies.

            Thirty years ago, Russia was forced to give up much of its ethnically different periphery, although it was far from ready to do so; and now it is being confronted by demands from an ethnically similar periphery, that is if anything even less willing to accept (

            That too, Inozemtsev argues, has its roots in the specific history of the Russian Empire.  In contrast to European empires, Russia’s “was formed not so much as a unity of the metropolitan center and lands colonized by it as the expansion of a single state,” something that concealed but did not alter the underlying reality.

            Beginning in the 16th century, “Moscow ruled de facto a colonial empire” but it viewed its empire as “one large metropolitan area.” In large measure, the center ruled ethnically similar regions east of the Urals in the same way it ran ethnically different ones in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the West.

That might not have been a problem except for one thing, the economist says. Th center exploited the periphery, Russian and non-Russian alike, but insisted that the periphery and especially the Russian portion was part of the whole country but not deserving of equal treatment.

            “Moscow today rules territories where the very same Russians live as those at the center of the country but who do not receive the same benefits or have the same standard of living which the population of the capital does.” And because that is the case, Inozemtsev says, “protest has arisen not in the ‘national’ republics but in oblasts where Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians form 94.3 percent of the total.” 

            Ethnic similarity alone will not hold things together if the relations between the center and the periphery are so unequal. That is something that British learned at the end of the 18th century with the independence of the United States and in the 19th with the exit of Canada, Australia and New Zealand from London’s control.

            It is not something that Moscow is yet prepared to accept.  But “the century in which we live is not a century of empires.” All of them are gone except for Russia, and now its ethnically similar periphery is rising against the imperial center just as the ethnically different one did in 1917 and 1991.

            “Today,” the analyst continues, “Russia is in a situation extremely similar to that in which the Soviet Union was at the start of the administration of Mikhail Gorbachev. The first expressions of dissatisfaction in 1986 also occurred on the periphery, and then too many thought that it would be enough to appoint some local to run Alma Ata to settle things.”

            “How this ended, we all know;” and today Russians wherever they live in the country must recognize that “Russian will not be able to maintain its unity if it does not convert itself into a genuine federation.” Its previous efforts to do so failed, and doing this now will be extremely difficult. But if it doesn’t happen, then disintegration is inevitable.

            “Only flexible relations among the subjects of the federation, significant autonomy in tax policy and the use of natural resources, a consistent defense of the rights of indigenous peoples, and strong local self-administration can help Russia break out of its imperial trap and build a country which it never was before.”

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