Staunton, March 16 – Some have proposed overcoming the asymmetry of Russian federalism in which predominantly Russian oblasts and krays have on paper at least fewer rights than non-Russian republics and autonomous formations, and a few have even called for holding referendums to make such a change.
Now, in a sign that such calls are gaining traction, the Kremlin has found it necessary to declare that “even theoretically,” such issues cannot be decided by a referendum because that would be “a violation of the Constitution of the country,” in the words of Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov (lenta.ru/news/2021/03/16/referendum/).
That cannot be allowed because such votes would “violate the fundamental law of the Russian Federation,” he says; and therefore “we are not discussing even the eventual possibility of such a casting of the question.”
A major reason that some in the regions view such referendums as a way forward is that the Kremlin itself used one in the case of Ukraine’s Crimea. But Peskov insists that the situations are fundamentally different: “conducting such voting without the agreement of the central authorities is not prohibited by the laws of the neighboring country.”
If you investigate what Moscow did in the case of Crimea, he continues, “you will be convinced that everything was done in absolute compliance with existing laws.”
As is frequently the case, the fact that this question is coming up is perhaps more important than the answer entirely expected that the Kremlin has given. For the powers that be to assume that they have to shoot down the idea suggests that the idea is now circulating widely enough that there is reason to attack it before it gains more support.
Moreover and once again, as many prefer to ignore, the impact of Moscow’s Anschluss of Crimea thus continues to spread often as in this case in ways that undermine the position of its authors. Peskov’s words are another milepost on that long and self-destructive path.