Saturday, February 24, 2024

Moscow Set to Re-Establish Nationalities Ministry, an Institution It can’t Live Without but can’t Live With

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 21 – Gennady Semigin, chairman of the Russian Duma’s Committee on Nationality Affairs, says his group has approved a bill that would replace the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs (FADN) with a Ministry for Nationality Affairs (

            That step is entirely appropriate, he says, because of the additional responsibilities the FADN has been given by the government last month, including an expanded role regarding immigrants (, mean that it needs that status.

            Whether Semigin’s prediction will prove true remains an open question given the difficulties Russian governments have had with structures overseeing nationality issues given that ethnic issues arise in almost every sector of government activity and no one wants the appearance of a super ministry that would inevitably undercut their own powers.

            That is why the history of nationality ministries in Russia is so fraught. The tsarist regime did not have one at all, but the Soviets created one in 1917, the Peoples Commissariat for Nationality Affairs (Narkmonats) with Stalin in charge, only to disband it in 2024 (

            Neither Stalin nor subsequent Soviet leaders were prepared to have such a problematic institution again. Only in March 1990, at the very end of Soviet times, did Moscow form a State Committee on Nationality Questions. But it lasted only until November 1991 when it was transformed into a State Committee on Nationality Policy (

            In March 1993, that body was renamed the State Committee for the Affairs of the Federation and Nationalities; and then in January 1994 that institution became the Ministry of the Russian Federation for the Affairs of Nationalities and Regional Policy. In March 1996, that in turn was reorganized into the Ministry for the Affairs of Nationalities and Federal Relations.

            This ministry underwent several reorganizations and renamings at the end of the 1990s, and then it was disbanded by Vladimir Putin in October 2001; but until 2004, its functions that had been shifted to other ministries were overseen by Vladimir Zorin, who had the title of minister without portfolio.

            For the following decade, there was no nationalities ministry or committee; instead, its functions were subordinate to the Ministry for Regional Affairs. But after that institution was disbanded on Putin’s order in 2014, the Kremlin decided to establish the FADN which was created the following year.

            In sum, the nationalities ministry or something having its responsibilities but under a different name is something the Russian leadership has found it can’t easily live with but can’t easily live without. 

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