Staunton, Nov. 14 – Two statements by senior Russian government officials strongly suggest that now, compared to only a few years ago, Moscow is far less worried about threats to the center based on nationality than it is about challenges arising from regions and the interests they represent.
Magomedsalam Magomedov, the deputy head of the Presidential Administration who oversees ethnic and regional affairs for the Kremlin, says that over the last decade, inter-ethnic tensions in Russia and relations among the various nationalities have improved (tass.ru/obschestvo/16318295 and nazaccent.ru/content/39461-administraciya-prezidenta-v-rossii-snizilsya-gradus-napryazheniya-v-mezhnacionalnyh-otnosheniyah.html).
As evidence of this, he pointed to the fact that the share of Russians expressing positive views on the state of inter-ethnic relations in their country had risen from a little more than 50 percent in 2012 to “more than 80 percent” now. That suggests that relations among the country’s various nationalities is less fraught than it was.
Meanwhile, Stanislav Belkin, the deputy head of the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs (FADN), says that his institution is worried about efforts to destabilize Russia and especially about efforts to “exaggerate regional interests,” something that he said requires a serious response from the center (tass.ru/politika/16319115 and nazaccent.ru/content/39466-zamglavy-fadn-predlozhil-izmenit-strategiyu-gosnacpolitiki-v-svyazi-s-novymi-vyzovami.html).
On the one hand, this shift in focus is a way to celebrate what some in Moscow see as an improvement in ethnic relations within the Russian Federation. But on the other, it is an acknowledgement of the challenges the central government now faces from predominantly ethnic Russian regions it had thought were solidly in its corner.
Six years ago, the author of these lines suggested that regionalism rather than nationality would likely be “the nationalism of the next Russian revolution” not only because the regions increasingly are abused and want redress but because predominantly ethnic Russian regions form a far greater share of the population that Russians did at the end of Soviet times (region.expert/regionalism-next-nationalism/).
If these two declarations this week are followed by others and especially by actions directed against regionalism, at least some in Moscow now shares that assessment, a development by itself that changes both the nature of center-periphery relations in the Russian Federation and the way in which outside observers should direct their attention.