Staunton, April 4 – Activists in Khabarovsk Territory, Tver Region, and Vologda Region are responding to Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea by calling for the central Russian government to “join” their territories to Russia so that they do can benefit from the center’s largesse, have higher living standards, and escape from local authoritarian rulers.
These appeals, first advanced in Tver and Vologda, are being amplified in Khabarovsk where activists of the Popular Alliance, known locally as “Native Country,” are calling for a mass demonstration on Sunday “for the re-unification of Khabarovsk Territory to Russia”.
This popular activism comes as a response to what Moscow has promised Crimea and to the efforts of officials to organize expressions of support for the annexation of that peninsula by the Russian Federation, and it is a clear reminder that once such games are begun, no one can be entirely sure where they will lead.
And perhaps equally important, such activism shows that a significant portion of Russians who may say they support what Putin did in Crimea view it as a military action rather than the result of a popular referendum as Moscow propagandists and defenders have been at pains to claim.
In announcing Sunday’s meeting, organizers said: “Look at the Crimea. On television they say that by its unification with Russia, the life of its citizens will become better, because Russia is a flourishing country which does not have social and political problems. Citizens of Khabarovsk! … We live less well than on average in Russia … our rights are violated … [and] they oppress us.”
Moreover, it continues, “We are all Russian-language residents of Khabarovsk Territory … and [here] we live much worse than in Russia. [Consequently,] we call for uniting Khabarovsk Territory to the Russian Federation.”
Vladimir Avramchuk, one of the organizers, told a local news outlet that “it isn’t a secret for anyone that the standard of living in Khabarovsk Territory is far behind other Russian regions.” The costs of housing and food are higher, wages are lower, medical care is worse, and there is a lack of infrastructure.
In fact, he says, one has the impression that “Khabarovsk Territory and the Far East as a whole are not part of Russia.”
Following a meeting organized by officials in support of the annexation of Crimea, supporters of this current effort staged small one-day protests carrying signs like “I demand the introduction of the Russian Army into Khabarovsk Territory!” “For a territory without official abuse!” and “For a better and more worthy life!”
Yevgeny Afanasyev, regional head of the Native Country Party, says that local people have been driven to ask for a Crimean solution because conditions are so bad where they live. And he expressed the hope that such demonstrations would at a minimum attract the attention of the authorities.
But other activists in Russian regions are less certain about what Moscow has done in Ukraine’s Crimea or about how useful it would be for the center to do the same thing within the borders of the Russian Federation. Dmitry Kovalchuk, a leader of the Far Eastern Alternative group, for example, says that annexing Crimea was “a mistake on Russia’s part” because “by this decision, the country violated all international legal norms.”
That is certainly true, but Putin’s actions in Crimea may prove an even greater mistake as they echo in Russia’s regions — and especially as the gap between those who say they support what Putin did – some 96 percent in some polls – and those who say his actions there will benefit Russia – 76 percent or 20 percent less – grows.
Note: See our report on Roman Romanenko, a journalist who began the campaign to “annex Vologda to Russia” that went viral around the world — and is now under investigation by the prosecutor’s office and has hate graffiti on his door–The Interpreter.