Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Status of Non-Russians within Russian Federation has Deteriorated Since Putin Launched His War in Ukraine, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 9 – The Reforum project has surveyed five experts both from within Russia and now residing abroad, and they concur that since the start of Putin’s war in Ukraine, the status of the non-Russian peoples within the current borders of the Russian Federation has deteriorated, sometimes sharply.

            Gasan Guseynov, an ethnic Azerbaijani who teaches at Riga’s Free University, says that the idea of a Russian world is not inherently imperialist but is being used by the Kremlin to suppress non-Russians (reforum.io/blog/2022/05/09/pochemu-rossiya-voyuet-s-naselyayushhimi-eyo-narodami/).

            With its insistence that the ethnic Russians are “the state-forming nation,” he says, Moscow has “declared war on all its minorities which cannot do anything to oppose that idea” because anyone who tries is immediately subject to harsh repression. The wars in Chechnya show just how far the center is prepared to go.

            Aleksandra Garmazhanova, head of the Free Buryatia Foundation, says that the Russian authorities are doing everything they can to make the non-Russians ashamed of their identity and to think that Russians are “’a higher race’” membership in which is something that they should aspire to.

            “We talk about the defense of Russian in Ukraine, but who is defending Udmurt I Russia? We are indigenous peoples and much closer to the Ukrainians than to the imperial idea of the Russian world.” As a result, many non-Russians feel they have no choice but to leave Russia.

            She says that she and others have formed the Buryats Against the War movement and continue to demand the formation of a genuine federation because “in fact no Russian Federation exist now … The majority of Buryats want change and feel that it is abnormal not to know one’s native language.” And she says that ever more Buryats feel that way, including many officials.

            Sergey Yerofeyev of Rutgers University and the Polish Institute of Advanced Studies, says bluntly that “present-day Russian nationalism is racism. Racism can lead not only to gas chambers.” And the fact that this has not happened in Russia does not mean that the predominant ideology there is not racist.

            Vasily Gatov of the Reforum group says that “Russian racism is very specific” in a horrific sense: “People are not so much boosting the Russian people as denigrating others.” There is nothing wrong with Russians being proud of being Russians but there is something very wrong in their not doing that but rather seeking to lord it over others.

            Dmitry Berezhkov, editor of the Russia of Indigenous Peoples portal, argues that “Russia is not the remnant of an empire: it was and is an empire and now is beginning to lose its colonies.” Moscow seeks to hide and block this by creating pocket officials who will mouth its line, but that only delays the inevitable.

            Putin’s war in Ukraine has hit minorities in Ukraine and Ukrainians in general the hardest, but “the indigenous peoples of Russia are also suffering from this situation.” One way that has hit them is that Western firms understood environmental protections but now that they have left, the Russian, Chinese and Indian replacements do not.

            The Kremlin has created a situation in which the indigenous peoples are afraid to speak out in their own defense. At present, he continues, many of them have decided that their only choice is to leave, a trend that will only intensify as the war in Ukraine and repression at home intensifies.

            Since the start of the war, Berezhkov says, “the indigenous peoples have completely lost the opportunity to present any opinion which diverges from that of the powers that be. We want to “return this possibility to them” and a month ago established an international committee of the indigenous peoples of Russia to do so.

            The new diasporas of non-Russians and Russians must act as “a third front” in the current war and is opposed by the peoples of the Russian Federation. Only if they do so, he suggests, will there be any possibility to achieve needed change in their country.

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