Staunton, July 31 – Moscow is directing predominantly ethnic Russian refugees from the fighting in southeastern Ukraine into non-Russian republics of the Russian Federation in a transparent effort to change the ethnic balance in those republics and further Russianize them, according to Marat Kulsharipov, a historian at Bashkortostan State University.
In an interview to RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service, Kulsharipov said that those who are fleeing from Eastern Ukraine “are not sent to Rostov, Kursk Belgorod or other [predominantly] Russian regions [which are close to Ukraine] but to Bashkortostan, which is thousands of kilometers away.”
Some of them, he continued, “are being accommodated in the summer camps” of local universities. Others are “being sent to different towns all over Bashkortostan, a Turkic speaking Muslim republic in the Middle Volga. That inevitably raises the question as to “why so many of them have been sent to [the non-Russian republics] rather than distributed equally throughout Russia.”
In his judgment, Kulsharipov said, what is being done reflects a decision by Moscow to “change the ethnic mix” in the non-Russian republics, boosting the number of ethnic Russians and thus reducing the share of the titular nationalities. That is clearly part of a broader Moscow strategy to create a single “Russian” nation.
There is another aspect to this Moscow-arranged flow: it has created unfunded mandates and sparked new ethnic tensions in the republics, the historian said. “The refugees get money from the republic budget and they get housing and jobs.” But “they’ll never take a hard and low-paying job. People who live here are insulted by that.”
The reason for the feelings of the Bashkirs, he said, is “that this is being done [by Moscow] on purpose. If the refugees were being sent to other regions as well, [they] wouldn’t be so frustrated.” The Bashkirs are angry because they view this policy as “targeting the non-Russians.” The republic president probably understands this but “can’t say anything.”
RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service reports that Bashkortostan is slated to receive up to 5,000 Russian refugees from Ukraine, a number that is not huge but one that can tip the ethnic balance were the share of the population of various nationalities is relatively evenly balanced as in many parts of that Middle Volga republic and to a certain extent for Bashkortostan as a whole.
The policy Kulsharipov points to represents a continuation of Soviet practice. When members of ethnic groups have returned from abroad, they were often settled not where they wanted but where Moscow thought this would do the most good for its policies of maintaining control.
The most notorious of such Soviet actions, of course, was Moscow’s decision to settle Armenians returning from abroad after World War II in parts of the Armenian SSR and then invoking their need for space as the basis for expelling Azerbaijanis from the region, an action that still rankles in the southern Caucasus.
But there is an equally clear case, albeit a negative one, of such policies elsewhere in post-Soviet Russia. Moscow has sought to block the return of Circassians to their historical homeland in the North Caucasus lest that shift the ethnic balance against the Russians and undermine central control of that restive region.