Staunton, July 28 – Moscow commentators like to talk about the existence of “two, three or even more Ukraines” and argue that Ukraine will disintegrate, Igor Losev says, but the reality is that there are far more ‘Russias’ than that, and the Russian Federation is thus at far greater risk of falling apart.
In a commentary entitled, “The specter of ‘the Parade of Sovereignties’ haunts Russia,” the Ukrainian commentator says that this has less to do with the ethnic diversity than with the Russian regionalism and the Moscow’s hyper-centralization.
The Russian state, he points out, includes “a large quantity of very different territories which are part of Russia largely as a result of conquest and expansion.” They have few horizontal ties and are only very weakly “connected with each other.” Instead, they are held together “only by a vertical tie with the center of the empire.”
In Soviet times, the union republics “could work only through the center and under its control” because “directly integrative processes between republics were blocked by Moscow.” Now, the center has been doing the same thing with “any independent regional integration projects.” As a result, the problems of the regions can only be addressed in Moscow.
Present-day Russia, Losev continues, “is not a federation but a monocentric, harsh and unitary state, despite all the federalist dressing. There, not only the heads of oblasts but even the presidents of republics are appointed by the Moscow center, [and] the empire is united by financial tranches … and military-police structures.”
If anything, Vladimir Putin has made this situation even worse, he suggests. He created seven federal districts which are, in many respects, “the Russian Federation in miniature: they have all the outward signs of statehood” but no real power, a situation that could entail “certain consequences.”
Indeed, the Ukrainian analyst argues, “the federal districts very much recall the former Soviet republics” about which “one Sovietologist said at the time: ‘the union republics have all the markers of independent states who have lost their independence.’” Or, alternatively, states that had not yet achieved that status and who see the center is getting everything from the sale of their natural resources while having none of its own.
“The current super-centralism of the Russian pseudo-confederation” is the product of a centuries’ long struggle by the center against the autonomy of the periphery, a struggle so intense that one might think that no local feelings or sense of distinctiveness existed any longer. But that is definitely not the case, Losev says.
In fact, he continues, at every point in Russian history, such feelings “have a tendency to regenerate; and memory about the glorious independent past awakens in the hearts of millions of Russians and then arises anew: the specter of Russian separatism, of anti-imperial direction.”
“In many regions of the Russian Federation whose population consists primarily of ethnic Russians, above all the donor regions, people want to live a full life” rather than being a supporter of Moscow, and to feel themselves “as it were a separate and different nation or even race.”
Not for nothing, Losev says, “certain Russian journalists joke: ‘Just 100 kilometers from Moscow and you are already in Russia.”
Siberians say it is time to “stop feeding Moscow,” and people in the Far East should remember the Far Eastern Republic. The center’s niggling regulation of life in the regions, its exploitation of their natural resources, and its diktat on issues like whether or not they can use Japanese cars with the steering wheel on the right.
The situation is more obvious in the non-Russian autonomies, “because they do not have any real autonomy even in the most intimate national-cultural questions.” The Kazan Tatars, for example, aren’t allowed to use the Latin script for their language, something they want to do, only because Moscow says no.
And Moscow’s actions in this regard are causing ever more Kazan Tatars to think about the fact that their statehood in the form of the Bulgar kingdom “existed long before” Moscow ever appeared on the map. And the neighbors of the Kazan Tatars in the Middle Volga – the Chuvash, the Mordvins, the Mari, the Udmurts, and the Komis “despite Russification,” feel the same.
The North Caucasus has also experienced “a civilizational incompatibility” with Russia, “intensified by the trauma of the Caucasian wars of the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries,” Losev points out. The deported nations and others, including the Tuvins who had a state until 1944, feel the same.
The Cossacks, whom many Russians refuse to accept as an independent people, now “at the very least, want to distance themselves from Russia,” if not become separate altogether. Moscow’s exploitation of the Cossacks as now in eastern Ukraine has as one of its purposes the destruction of as many Cossacks as possible.
The “conglomerate” that is Russia is held together by force but is always at risk in the case of “the first military defeat or a deep social-economic crisis.” Russia is trapped because it cannot survive if it does not expand, but it will die if it tries to do so because it will cease to be able to develop in a positive and modern direction.