Staunton, November 12 – Vladimir Putin is organizing a “separatist international” against European countries, thus combining two of his more widely recognized policies: promoting separatism in the former Soviet republics around Russia’s periphery and reaching out to nationalist extremists in Europe.
According to the Severodonetsk portal, Russia is now attacking Europe using the old principle of “’divide and conquer.’” Its backing of separatist enclaves and ultra-right groups there is already bringing Putin dividends, but such actions could backfire.
Ever more European Union countries are confronted with separatist challenges from Spain to Finland and from Great Britain to Romania, and one must ask, the portal says, “whom does this separatist ‘international’ benefit?” The answer, it suggests, is obvious: Moscow and especially Putin. And it provides a map of “active separatist movements” on the continent.
Not long ago, the site of the self-proclaimed “Luhansk People’s Republic” featured greetings from the Venetian Republic, something that does currently exists only in the virtual world after it launched an attempt to seize Piazza San Marco in Venice “synchronously” with Moscow’s moves in eastern Ukraine.
The Italian police were able to round up without difficulty several dozen participants in this action, a group who planned to use weapons purchased from the Albanian mafia and an excavator converted into a tank. Now the group exists only as a “semi-legal” Internet project.
But it has proven useful to Moscow, Sevdon.net continues. Its leader has given interviews to the Russian media praising Putin’s actions in Ukraine and denouncing Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and US President Barack Obama as “war criminals” for opposing Putin’s operation.
And it like other separatist organizations in Europe, even though they represent “non-existing republics,” regularly send messages of support to the Moscow-backed insurgents in southeastern Ukraine and even send “observers” to the stage-managed elections that the Russian forces have conducted.
For the time being, Sevdon.net says, groups like these are being held “in reserve.” But Moscow is moving to promote separatist groups beyond Ukraine but closer to home, most recently and prominently in Latvia where the Riga newspaper Diena reports that activists are trying to stimulate the secession of Latgale in the southeastern part of that country.
According to local officials, the residents of Latgale are not all that interested, but some who are poor may be being bribed to follow the Russian line, thinking in the words of Gunars Upennieks, the head of a local government body in that region, that their “big neighbor could be salvation” for them.
As the Russian advance into Crimea and other parts of Ukraine shows, it does not take the recruitment of very many such people to provide the kind of cover that muddies the waters, opening the way for covert and then overt Russian intervention while keeping Western media and Western government off balance.
That Moscow is likely to try to use the same strategy that has worked so far in Ukraine elsewhere should not surprise anyone: Russians historically have followed the same script again and again in their intelligence and subversive activities. But there may be one reason why they may be held back in Latvia or elsewhere in Europe.
And that is, the portal concludes, that unleashing the separatist genie in Europe could ultimately mean that it will arise in Russia itself, a country that not only is more multi-national than most of the European states against which Moscow is pursuing this strategy but also is filled with peoples mistreated in the past who are increasingly angry at Putin’s “Russian world.”