Staunton, April 21 — Since Vladimir Putin called for the creation of a new Agency for Nationalities Affairs, many have speculated that this decision will mark a turning point in Moscow’s approach to the increasingly numerous non-Russian portion of his country’s population.
But a true measure of its meaning — which like so much Putin does is more propagandistic than practical — is that officials involved in setting up the agency say its staff will not be larger than 100 and that 44 of those will come from the culture and justice ministries rather than being new hires.
In one sense, this is only what should have been expected. For a nationalities agency to be effective in Russia, it would have to be given so much power that it would be a threat to other ministries and even the Kremlin — and consequently, as in the recent past, the regime has chosen to create something that is unlikely to matter as much as some hoped and others feared.
In another sense, however, Putin’s failure to do more in this area is likely to cause him more problems than he now imagines. Such a tiny bureaucracy will not even be able to monitor what is going on among the non-Russians let alone take any real actions to solve nationality problems or prevent clashes.
And that means that the Kremlin will once again be at the mercy of events, having to react to things it has not been warned about in a timely fashion, something that a slightly larger agency might have been able to accomplish.