Thursday, November 16, 2023

The Ingria Precedent: Why It will Determine Fate of So Many

 Paul Goble

    Staunton, Nov. 15 -- Below are remarks I made via zoom to the Free Ingria Conference in Riga this week. A Russian-language version of them is available at

            The importance of the creation of a free Ingria cannot be overstated. It is of course critical for the peoples within its borders as a means of escaping from under Muscovite imperialism and oppression. But it is even more important as a precedent for peoples in other regions and republics now within the borders of the Russian Federation. If Ingria succeeds and becomes a model for others, then the prospects that the Muscovite state will not only disintegrate but remain dissolved are great; if it doesn’t, then there is the possibility that attempts by others to achieve independence will either never take off or will fail when the remaining Muscovite core strikes back as the Soviets did after 1917 and as Putin is attempting to do now in Ukraine. Consequently, even as those who support the success of the Free Ingria project focus first of all on achieving their own aims, they must do what they can to spread the ideas behind it to other peoples across what is now the Russian Federation. Such an effort is not only in their interests – if they take that step, their own prospects for success will be greater – but it is in the interests of all the peoples now living within the borders of the Russian Federation as well as of all the countries of the world who will not have to face continuing Muscovite aggression.

             The logic here should be clear to everyone involved, and the fact that this meeting is taking place in Riga suggests that Ingrian activists at least understand it.  In contrast to many other regional and national movements within the Russian Federation, the Ingria one is not based either on ethnicity or existing borders alone but rather on a desire to form a community and a state based on common interests and to draw borders reflecting those interests. That is critical for Ingria; but it is even more critical as a model for others.  There are at least three compelling reasons for that conclusion:

            First, many of the smaller nationalities in the Russian Federation are likely too small and too intermixed with other nations and especially with ethnic Russians to be able to go it alone. If they try to do so, many may find that they will not be able to sustain themselves given the near certainty that a surviving core of the Muscovite state will move against them one by one, first by sponsoring interethnic tensions and then by using military force. In the absence of outside support which will be anything but certain in such cases, they are likely to find themselves unable to defend what they had struggled to achieve. The Ingria precedent provides a model to avoid these things: it is based on interethnic cooperation, it is larger and has access to various geopolitical resources so that any Muscovite entity will have more problems in trying to suppress it, and it represents the formation of a kind of state that is far more likely to be able to cooperate with its neighbors than any based on other principles.

            Second, the formation of Ingria provides a model for the formation of a smaller number of larger states within what is now the Russian Federation, states more capable of acting independently and cooperating with others. History shows that those countries with smaller number of component parts are more likely to dissolve than those with a larger one; and it even suggests that if the number is small enough, the prospects for a more or less peaceful divorce as was the case between the Czech Republic and Slovakia are enhanced. Ingria represents a step in that direction: if what the Ingria movement seeks spread, there could be as few as eight or ten new states in place of the more than 80 federal subjects Moscow has carved up the region into as part of its divide-and-conquer strategy. And those eight or ten would thus become schools of cooperation that would allow them to deal with each other and stand up together against Moscow.

            And third – and this is by far the most important contribution of the Ingria precedent – the following of its ideas elsewhere would help promote the kind of cooperation and compromise that are the basis of democratic politics and social stability and that would be a guarantee of a better future for all the peoples of the region, whatever ethnic or regional identities they now profess. That in turn would almost certainly gain them more support from Western democracies, the kind of support that more narrowly drawn states have far more difficulty in attracting and thus create the conditions not only for the survival and flourishing of Ingria but of all the other new states that follow its precedent.

             Many who are promoting the Ingria project naturally focus on more immediate tasks, including the definition of borders, the reaching out of people of one nationality to others, and the creation of institutions within a future Ingria that will allow it to flourish. Such a focus is entirely appropriate; but it is incomplete because the future of Ingria will depend not only on what happens within its borders but what happens in its neighbors and especially what happens in the rest of the Russian Federation. Consequently, those who would like to see a Free Ingria need to promote the creation of other free states on the territory currently occupied by a repressive Muscovite empire. If what the supporters of Ingria are doing now spread to the rest of that territory, other states resembling Ingria will arise and the prospects for the success of the original one will increase.

            That this Free Ingria conference is being held in Riga is thus more important than perhaps even some of those taking part recognize. In the years and especially months leading up to the recovery of the independence of Latvia and her neighbors, Estonia and Lithuania, the national movements of all three adopted strategies like the one urged here of seeking to promote the transformation of the parts of the Soviet Union according to the Baltic precedent. They helped organize peoples fronts in various republics and organized seminars and other training opportunities for Ukrainians, Belarusians, and others as well. Many of those steps led to real changes in these places and helped them achieve independence from Moscow. And because they also touched on the Russian Federation as well, they meant that when the Kremlin sought to crush the Baltic drive to the recovery of independence, hundreds of thousands of Russians took to the streets in Moscow and other cities to protest that brutality. Had that not happened, the Soviet government might have felt it had a freer hand to use even more force to block the recovery of independence by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

            Now, thirty years later, Ingrian activists can draw on that Baltic strategy, something that will assist them to achieve their own goals but helping others see what their goals should be.  

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