Staunton, January 15 – Many in Russia and the West are celebrating Yevgeny Primakov’s argument presented at the Mercury Club this week that hyper-centralization, a policy associated with Vladimir Putin, is a threat to the Russian Federation and its economic recovery and his call for devolving more powers to the regions of the country.
But few of them have paid equal attention to his suggestion that national districts should be folded into larger and predominantly ethnic Russian regions, a step Putin also has pushed with some success and one that many non-Russians view as another move toward the destruction of the national republics and the ultimate assimilation of non-Russians.
Primakov said that there is no threat of any “color revolution” anywhere in the Russian Federation, but he argued that “for the resolution of economic problems, the economy needs decentralization” given that problems “can arise precisely from an extraordinary centralization of all spheres of life, including economics.”
The senior Russian leader added that “the significance of the optimization of relations of the center with the subjects of the Russian Federation is growing given the events in Ukraine” and he called for greater economic decentralization – including a 50 – 50 split in tax revenues between Moscow and the regions – but “a strengthening of the role of the federal center which maintains the country as a single whole.”
Many leaders of the federal subjects will welcome Primakov’s suggestion that they should receive an equal share of tax revenues, an idea he pushed in the late 1990s when he was prime minister, but his ideas about federalism more generally are disturbing many non-Russians who see them as threatening the survival of their ethno-territorial units and even their nations.
In his speech, Primakov said that he favored unifying non-Russian districts with larger and predominantly ethnic Russian regions and krays. And he even called the continued existence of the Jewish Autonomous Region of Birobidzhan “a political anachronism” given that its titular nationality forms only a tiny fraction of its population.
The Russian statesman said that this process could not affect all non-Russian republics and districts but only those in which the titular nationality was a small minority, a position that he took to reassure major republics like Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Chechnya, and the other republics in the North Caucasus and that Putin appears to have been driven to as well by resistance in them to his amalgamation plans.
But Primakov’s remarks were not reassuring to other non-Russians or even to non-Russians in these republics who view these limited plans as the latest stage in a Moscow campaign to destroy ethnically based federalism in the Russian Federation and ultimately to assimilate the quarter of the population that is non-Russian into the Russian nation.
One commentator suggested that what Primakov was talking about would allow for “the creation of all the conditions necessary for the final assimilation of the non-Russian peoples” now within the borders of the Russian Federation. Another suggested that “anti-crisis federalism” is simply the latest euphemism for Russification.
That last comment came from Buryatia, the republic and nation which has suffered more than almost any other from amalgamation of non-Russian territories into Russian ones. In 1922, Buryatia had two autonomous regions and seven officially recognized enclaves. With Putin’s moves in the last decade, it now has a single republic.
Primakov’s proposals like those of many Russian reformers in the past are about one kind of federalism, but however welcome a more equitable division of resources between the center the regions his ideas might promote, his call for eliminating more non-Russian areas through amalgamation is certain to trigger new anger and resistance among non-Russians, both those directly threatened and those who fear they will be threatened by this proposal in the future.