Saturday, September 26, 2020

New Law Against Calls for Secession Likely to Be Used Against Those Urging Federalism, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 24 – The new law against calls for secession now working its way through the Duma is completely unnecessary as there has been such a law in place since 2014 and there are few if any such calls in the regions and republics of the Russian Federation, Vadim Shtepa says.

            The new measure does increase the punishments that can be imposed on those who make such calls, the editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal says; but the reasons it is being pushed at the present  time lie elsewhere, in the peculiar psychology of Vladimir Putin and in his desire to counter any demands for federalism as such (

            The 2014 law that the new bill would strengthen was introduced so that anyone who objected to Russia’s Anschluss of Crimea could be prosecuted for challenging that annexation as a separatist, something the occupation powers have done in the Ukrainian peninsula numerous times since then.

            But the real cause of the current “legislative panic” Shtepa says lies in the worldview of Vladimir Putin. He sincerely believes that the USSR came apart because of the right union republics had to leave that country under its constitution. He has called that “a delayed action mine” and committed himself to preventing any repetition of 1991.

            “For Putin, imperial ‘one and indivisibleness’ is the highest priority,” the regional expert says, and he has sought to “liquidate federalism” within the current borders of the Russian Federation and threaten the former union republics with a new union state, thus continuing the neo-imperial line begun by Boris Yeltsin as early as 1992.

            Yeltsin’s “federative treaty” of that year “did not have any relationship to the principles of genuine federalism,” Shtepa points out, “because it was concluded not among the regions directly but between the regions and ‘the center’ which kindly shared with them certain authority” and which was asymmetrical with republics having more rights than krays and oblasts.

            Yeltsin was and Putin is especially obsessed with any demands by Russian regions for rights equal to those of the republics. Yeltsin suppressed the Urals Republic because he and his entourage feared that such demands could trigger the end of the Russian Federation more directly than any moves by republics (

            Putin has continued that practice and has done even more than Yeltsin to gut the national republics of any real privileges “compared to ‘Russian oblasts.’ They have all been reduced to the level of colonies, as Oleg Mikhaylov the deputy of the Komi Republic’s State Council, recently pointed out.

            So how is the Putin regime going to use the new law against calls for separatism, Shtepa asks rhetorically. The answer probably lies in the recent case of Ayrat Dilmukhametov, a Bashkir activist who was sentenced to nine years in prison for calling for genuine federalism (

            Calls for making Russia a genuine federation as against calls for secession are an increasing feature of life in Russia’s regions, Shtepa says. They are to be seen in the demands of the Khabarovsk population which has been demanding that in the streets for more than two months.

            The Kremlin doesn’t know what to do. Local siloviki aren’t willing to suppress the demonstrators, and bringing in more from outside would only inflame the situation, possibly leading to demands for secession if their calls for federalism remain unmet, just as was the case with the union republics 30 years ago.

            People in Khabarovsk are already flying their regional flag, and it seems clear, Shtepa says, that Moscow wants its new law against calls for separatism to be another arrow in its quiver to use against people there or elsewhere who are demanding federalism. What Putin doesn’t seem to recognize is that his acting in this way could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

            After all, the Soviet Union fell apart not when Mikhail Gorbachev allowed the republics more freedom but when, after doing that, he grew fearful and tried to take things back, only to discover that those who had developed a taste for self-standing life weren’t prepared to go back to being Moscow’s colonies.

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