Staunton, Dec. 9 – One of the most remarkable political exchanges in Russia since 1991 came today when filmmaker Aleksandr Sokurov outlined at the Presidential Council on the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights his view of the problems of Russia and Vladimir Putin responded in terms that reveal just how fragile he sees Russia as being.
“All republics today bear a national character,” Sokurov begins. “There are capitals; there are even armies and padishahs have appeared. There is a President of the Federation. But where is Russia? Russia doesn’t even have a capital. Moscow is the capital of Moscow,” and ever more people outside it see that (kremlin.ru/events/president/news/67331).
What is taking place in the North Caucasus is “a big problem, politically, culturally, emotionally and economically,” he continues. Under the Soviets, the Russians came but did not allow development. “Now there are almost no Russians there, and the Caucasus is becoming mono-ethnic.”
“All power is in the hands of indigenous people, but there is no development or almost none? Why? Because,” Sokurov says, “there is no free development of young people.” They cannot be themselves and act on their own. They are constrained by a system that prevents all that despite what the Constitution says.
The Ingush people came into the streets to protest the fact that part of their territory was taken away from them. They had no choice, “but Moscow didn’t like this. In Moscow there are many lobbyists of the Chechen sector and the Muscovites decided to arrest the active Ingush” rather than listen to their grievances.
That is leading to unfortunate developments. “It seems to me,” Sokurov says, “that all the people there are ever more beginning not to live the federation of the Russians.” Young people say that “you, Russians, do not deserve our respect,” and some even say, “you will fight with NATO [but] but we will not fight on your side.” (stress added)
This is part of larger problems that must be thought about, discussed and resolved. There is “a horrific politicization of life in the country” while at the same time, “however strange, the ruling party is apolitical even as there has been a politicization of all law enforcement organs and the army.”
The separation of church and state the Constitution mandates has not been maintained. And that matters because an Islamic revolution is approaching. “One can ward off a revolution but one can’t defeat it.” The country needs trade unions; it needs civic organizations; and it needs to respond to the variety of country rather than seek to make everything uniform.
Tested by the covid pandemic, the state has been found wanting, Sokurov says. And as a result, “the population doesn’t completely trust the government.” And there is too much talk of war when Russia should be focusing on itself and its own population which needs so much. The place to begin is to follow the principles of the Constitution.
“Let’s let all who no longer want to live with us in one state leave,” he says. “Let us wish them success.”
Sokurov ends by apologizing for his bluntness, and Putin responds by saying that the director does have something to apologize for. There have always bee problems and these need to be considered but privately lest discussions provoke exactly what no one wants as they easily could.
“We have two thousand territorial claims around the country,” the Kremlin leader says. Does anyone want “a repetition of Yugoslavia on our territory?” And he pointedly says that Sokurov shouldn’t talk about the Vaynakh peoples – the Chechens and the Ingush – without recognizing the complexities of their situation and the problems of the others.
According to Putin, “we must support the Caucasus. The Caucasus is part of the Russian Federation.” And he challenges Sokurov to show that there are many there who want to separate from Russia. “Certainly,” he says, there are some; but overwhelmingly, people there want to be part of Russia and avoid a repetition of the tragedies of the 1990s.
Loose talk about allowing people to leave is “a very dangerous little joke,” Putin says. “It can end very badly.” The Russian people don’t want the country to come apart, and talking as if they should let others go is wrong. “You want to transform us into Muscovy?” Putin asks. “Well, that is what NATO wants to do.”