Staunton, February 24 – The Russian Federation is neither the USSR although it retains some of the multi-national statehood institutions that its predecessor had nor Russia precisely because more than a quarter of its federal subjects are explicitly non-Russian autonomies of one kind or another.
Since 1991, some Russians have proposed trying to square this circle by doing away with the non-Russian federal subjects and assimilating non-Russians into a Russian nation defined one way or another. But others have proposed different strategies, including the elevation of Russian oblasts and krays to the status of republics, or entirely more radical ones.
Now, Aleksandr Kolesnikov, a deputy in the Yekaterinburg city Duma, has called for the creation of a Russian Republic within the Russian Federation and with its capital in Yekaterinburg that would unite the 46 predominantly Russian oblasts and krays, three federal cities, and the Jewish Autonomous Oblast (kommersant.ru/doc/4703458, ura.news/news/1052473122 and idelreal.org/a/31119719.html).
The Yekaterinburg deputy’s proposal came in a letter to Pavel Krasheninnikov, who is a deputy in the Russian Duma. Kolesnikov says that such a step is needed because “all nationalities have republics, but the Russian nationality doesn’t” but should. But many are likely to see this as another effort to revive the Urals Republic of the 1990s.
Krasheninnikov is sympathetic to the idea. “We have a large number of nationalities and peoples. We must derive enormous value from this. We must increase and defend the rights of all people independent of their nationality or where they were born and grew up. We are Russia and from the start we are strong as a result.” But of course, any change would require referenda.
Creating a single Russian Republic within the Russian Federation is unlikely to get the support that more limited programs, including those pushed by Vladimir Putin and his supporters, for the consolidation of Russian and non-Russian republics on an individual basis or even the amalgamation of some Russian regions.
Were Kolesnikov’s proposal to be adopted, the Russian Federation would consist of an enormous both in size and population Russian Republic with about two dozen non-Russian republics within and around it, a situation that would unlikely remain stable for very long.
On the one hand, many Russians who insist that the Russian Republic have a voice over the policies of the Russian Federation befitting their size and make the policies of its government, even though it would be in Yekaterinburg rather than Moscow, even more Russian than they are today.
And on the other and related to this, many non-Russians would likely view such an arrangement as constituting the de facto secession of the Russians from the Russian Federation and thus putting them on course to their own independence as countries, much as happened with many union republics after Boris Yeltsin’s RSFSR made clear it was leaving the USSR.
But that does not make the Yekaterinburg deputy’s proposal irrelevant. Instead, it highlights a fundamental and unresolved tension in the state construction of the country currently called the Russian Federation even though in important respects, as Kolesnikov implies, it is neither Russia nor a federation and can’t be without significant changes.