Staunton, Sept. 20 – Russian policy toward the non-Russians has been consistently based on a divide-and-rule approach, with Moscow working hard to keep non-Russians separate so that it can move against one without the risk that others will come to its defense against the imperial center.
In recent months, non-Russian activists have formed a variety of umbrella groups that have brought together these ethnic and regional activists on the basis of their common interest in gaining greater autonomy or independence. Now, the non-Russians are taking the next step, forming bilateral agreements between two nations.
The clearest and most ramified example of this is the appearance of a 1500-word Memorandum of Understanding between the Council of United Circassia and the Karelian National Liberation Movement which calls for the two to coordinate their efforts to achieve their national goals (stop-occupacii-karelii.net/cherkesy/).
At least in part, this accord is part of an effort by the two groups to assume leadership within their own national activists given that each commits to viewing the other as the only legitimate representation of the aspirations of that nation. But it is an example of expanding cooperation at a bilateral level that may shape the next chapter of non-Russian activism.
And precisely because the two nations are so widely separated geographically – the Circassians are from the North Caucasus and the Karelians in a region adjoining Finland – this accord could become a model for other cases of bilateral cooperation and create conditions that would create problems for Moscow and even give it pause.
Thus, for example, were the Tuvans and the Komi to reach a similar kind of agreement, the Russian government would have to know that any action against one of these peoples would likely generate a reaction by the other and thus perhaps be less prepared to take the risk that such actions could produce.
That creates a new kind of ethnic challenge to the central authorities and thus deserves to be followed with care.