Thursday, January 21, 2021

Territorial Disputes among Russia’s Federal Subjects Must Be Decided Not by Moscow or Unilateral Action but by Negotiations, Sidorov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 18 – In recent weeks, the leadership of the Tyvan Republic has made territorial claims against two of its neighbors, Krasnoyarsk Kray and Irkutsk Oblast, a move some see as an effort by the Tyvan leader to win support from his people and prevent Moscow from sacking him.

            But however that may be, Vadim Sidorov, a Prague-based Russian regionalist and federalist writer says, this event, although largely ignored in Moscow, is a reminder that border disputes exist at least in latent form in many federal subjects and that they can break out at almost any time for extraneous reasons (

            While there are such sleeping disputes among almost all of the regions of the country, the most serious are those involving peoples who were deported and who on their return were not given back all the territory they had had before or those involving others who were never given back such territories or never had them to begin with.

            In the first category are the Chechens and Ingush, who on their return found that lands they had controlled before deportation were left within the borders of neighboring republics and regions. In the second are the Volga Germans and Cossacks who did not get their territorial areas back or various ethnic minorities like the Ingermanlanders who did not have such entities earlier.

            At the present time, there are two competing methods for the resolution of these disputes, the national-historical and the imperial, Sidorov says. The former insists that every people must have the right to make claims to territories that it views as part of its national patrimony, a position that may be advanced by historians but can’t be solved by them.

            The second, in contrast, insists that Moscow has the right to make all such decisions regardless of the desires and aspirations of the peoples involved. That too is unlikely to solve many of these intractable problems. Instead, it will exacerbate feelings that Moscow favors one people or another, thus making ethnic and territorial differences more, not less serious.

            According to Sidorov, “regionalists and federalists cannot permit themselves to adopt either of these positions. To do the first would be to “open a Pandora’s box” and lead to “a war of all against all.” To do the second would be to betray their principles that the peoples and not the central authorities have the right and must have the power to make such decisions.

            Federalists and regionalists, he continues, insist that no changes should be made from above or achieved by the unilateral use of force. Instead, they must be the result of negotiations and thus of compromise; and such compromises must often involve not the changing of borders but a changed approach by both sides.

            Thus, those who control areas others view as properly theirs must come up with strategies that will recognize the special rights of those populations, and those making demands for the redrawing of borders need to recognize that they can achieve more by cooperating with their neighbors to protect the rights of their peoples.

            Such an approach will require a sea change in the attitudes of all the players in this drama, but only if it happens, Sidorov concludes, is there any chance to avoid increased tensions more violence and either the rise of an even more centralist imperial state or the disintegration of Russia altogether.

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