Staunton, Feb. 4 – Many in the Middle Volga believe they can never be independent because their republics are entirely surrounded by Russian territory, but “they forget” that there is only a narrow space between them as a whole and Kazakhstan, Bashkir émigré leader Ruslan Gabbasov says.
Stalin created the Orenburg Oblast in the 1930s precisely to prevent the peoples of Idel-Ural – the Tatars, Bashkirs, Chuvash, Mordvins, Maris, and Udmurts – from becoming union republics and thus being in a position to recover their independence when the USSR fell apart, he continues (censoru.net/2023/02/05/bashkorty-i-tatary-sila-v-obedinenii.html).
What Stalin intended as a wall can in fact be viewed as a corridor, known familiarly as the Orenburg corridor or the Kuvandyk corridor in Turkic languages; and it can be recovered for all the Idel-Ural peoples if Bashkirs and Tatars work together, the émigré Bashkir leader continues.
According to Gabbasov, “this term was introduced” by the author of these lines in 2013, when I argued that “the appearance of a common Bashkir-Kazakh border would divide Moscow from Siberia and create the preconditions for the possible recognition of Bashkortostan and subsequently other republics of Idel-Ural” (jamestown.org/program/the-orenburg-corridor-and-the-future-of-the-middle-volga/)
In fact, the Bashkir writer does me too much honor:. The term has been circulating for some time, although some Russian writers have picked up the arguments I made at that time and ascribed them to me (dzen.ru/media/filosof/kak-sozdannyi-stalinym-kuvandykskii-koridor-v-90e-gody-spas-rossiiu-ot-raspada-61dfec1e03267516a2997782).
But at the same time and helping to explain Gabbasov’s appeal, there have been five developments during the intervening years that have raised the profile of the Orenburg corridor not only among the Idel-Ural peoples but also internationally both as a problem for Moscow and as a means for Kazakhstan and Ukraine to put pressure on the Russian Federation.
First of all, the hitherto predominantly ethnic Russian Orenburg Oblast is depopulating, making its population less Russian and the potential transfer of the corridor to Bashkortostan or Kazakhstan less problematic than it would have been earlier (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2022/06/russian-census-results-reopening.html).
Second, new research has shown that Orenburg has a much longer Turkic past than Russian scholars have wanted to admit and that it is linked to Tatarstan far more closely than even most Tatar historians have suggested (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2022/10/new-research-highlights-past-tatar.html).
Third, Kazakh nationalists have shown interest in recovering the Orenburg corridor for themselves in order to project Turkic influence into the middle of Russia, an interest that the government of Kazakhstan has been sufficiently concerned about to deny (fondsk.ru/news/2018/03/10/kazahskie-nacionalisty-vspomnili-ob-orenburgskom-koridore-45740.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/10/kazakhstan-has-no-official-claims.html
And fifth, Moscow’s talk about amalgamating regions has led some in the Middle Volga to argue that one of the best places for that process to begin would be the Orenburg corridor, yet another case where Russian policies have unintended consequences when they are exploited by others (idelreal.org/a/31227964.html).
How far this will go, of course, remains to be seen; and what Moscow will do in Orenburg to try to prevent it also is unclear. But one thing is certain: the Orenburg or Kuvandyk corridor is a real danger to the survival of the Russian Federation in its current borders (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2018/11/orenburg-corridor-threatens-russia-more.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/04/the-kudymkar-corridor-another-problem.html).
That some in Moscow think so is highlighted by the fact that the Russian version of Wikipedia now has a page devoted to it (cyclowiki.org/wiki/Кувандыкский_коридор; cf. ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Кувандыкский_коридор).