Staunton, September 15 – The FSB has brought charges against four Russians in Krasnodar Krai for promoting separatism there, the first such application in the country of the law adopted in May of this year imposing criminal penalties for calling into question the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.
But a survey of specialists on the region found that they are unanimous in believing, as Kavpolit’s Andrey Koshik put it today, that “calls for the separation of the Kuban from Moscow” are a Moscow effort to determine how much support there is for such ideas and to use such provocations against Ukraine.
According to Koshik, there are “no real preconditions or any support” for separatism, and those who have been charged are marginal figures who have been at the edges of all kinds of protests about all kinds of issues rather than activists committed to a specific agenda of separatism for the Kuban.
Mikhail Savva, a local political analyst, told Kavpolit that the local Russian siloviki have brought charges either as a way to taking a sounding about public opinion on this sensitive issue or to attract attention to themselves given the way in which Moscow has sought to suggest that Ukrainians are behind it.
He notes that in the Kuban, regional self-consciousness is “much more strongly developed than in the majority of Russian regions” and that “the memory of the fact that an independent state existed here during the Civil War is still alive.” But that doesn’t mean there is separatism, at least not yet. Instead, it means that it is easy for the authorities to bring charges and make them plausible.
Savva noted that many experts say that as many a third of the convictions handed down by Russian courts today are unjust. That means that “more than 300,000 people” are unjustly being confined. And that in turn recalls the situation in the USSR before its end: “people are beginning to reflect that if it is impossible to have order within an enormous country, perhaps it can be achieved in small separate ‘apartments.’”
In the early 1990s, Cossack activists called for the creation of Cossack republics in Armavir and the Verkhne-Kuban, but he says, today “there is no basis for separatism among the Cossacks. Only fools or provocateurs who have been bought off might raise this issue.”
Igor Vasilyev, a local historian who recently published a book on “Ukrainian Nationalism, Ukrainization, and the Ukrainian Cultural Movement in Kuban,” agrees. He suggests that those who have been arrested are not separatists because they do not have “the corresponding worldview and ideology” of such a movement.
In fact, he says, those the authorities have brought up on charges are “typical urban crazies” who will protest about anything, and he suggested that “they do not have even a minimum social base in the region and do not express any interests.”
That may all be true, but by bringing such charges, the Russian authorities are putting themselves at risk by bringing such a case. Separatism may not exist in the Kuban today, but if the powers that be talk about it enough, they may in the end produce what they fear most rather than strangling any such movement in its cradle.