Vienna, March 28 – In order to weaken Russia during the upcoming electoral cycle, one Moscow analyst argues, some foreign governments – including the U.S. -- plan to promote “Russian separatism” as a “fifth column” inside the country, a drive the Russian government cannot afford to ignore, however slight its prospects appear.
In an article posted online today, Rem Latypov notes, Russia frequently has had to deal with separatists, but generally, the separatists were people who wanted to restore their independence and/or establish an independent homeland for a particular nationality (http://www.russ.ru/layout/set/print//politics.docs/klreschi_separatizma).
Most of these groups enjoyed support from foreign powers interested in weakening Russia, the commentator argues, but now those who do not want to see Russia “rise again like a Phoenix” confront a very different set of challenges and consequently have adopted a different strategy, one Moscow must be prepared to counter.
Foreign enemies of Russia now recognize, Latypov says, that they have little or no chance to stage a Ukrainian-style Orange Revolution. And these foreign forces currently see few chances beyond the Northern Caucasus to exploit the anger of non-Russian groups against the power of the Russian state.
As a result, such anti-Russian groups have decided to stimulate and then exploit “Russian separatism,” the desire of some in the regions to defend and enhance their own powers even to the point of destroying the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation and threatening Russia’s position in the world.
According to Latypov, such foreign-backed efforts are most significant in the Russian Far East, Kaliningrad, and the southern and northern regions of European Russia, but he warns that if “Russian separatism” is successful in any or all of these regions, it almost certainly would emerge elsewhere as well.
Few in Moscow currently take these threats seriously, Latypov says, but there are reasons why they might quickly grow, especially if they get unchallenged support from abroad. In the Russian Far East, for example, local elites may be led to conclude that they and not the Russian Federation should control the immense natural wealth there.
And in Kaliningrad, the reasons why should a drive might emerge are even more compelling, Latypov argues. First, that region is now entirely surrounded by European Union countries, leading many to feel that their future is with the EU rather than with the Russian Federation.
Second, many Kaliningrad residents feel a certain “psychological alienation from Russia” with which their territory is not contiguous. And third, precisely because of its small size, the Moscow analyst writes, it is a place where separatist propaganda could quickly and easily reach everyone there.
Latypov suggests that “separatists” and their foreign backers there and elsewhere are certain to launch propagandistic attacks on the supposed “parasitism” of Moscow, to seek to corrupt and thus “paralyze” law enforcement groups, and especially important to stage “mass anti-Moscow protests.”
Separatist groups in each region are interested only in their own success, but their foreign backers have different goals: they want a breakthrough somewhere in the hopes that this would have a domino effect on Russia as a whole, and they are primarily interested in weakening Russia than in creating new states.
That reality provides some important clues on how Moscow should deal with this problem, Latypov argues. It should launch its own propaganda drive to convince people in the regions that they are far better off within a rich and powerful Russia than they would be in a small and impoverished state.
“In every region,” he writes, “such people are always the majority,” and consequently they need to get organized, possibly with Moscow’s help. What the center should not do, he continues, is to seek the suppression of separatism via the state’s “naked police and criminal justice” system.
Such an approach, Lem Latypov says, would at best have “only a small and short-term effect because it would not resolve the problem but only drive it into the underground which could in the end have an even more explosive effect” than it does at present.
Latypov’s article is intriguing because he is discussing something many Russians prefer to ignore. But it is not clear just what its appearance now means. Is it an effort to grapple with Russia’s current regional problems in a serious way? Or is it only part of a broader propagandistic effort to crack down on those who disagree with the Kremlin?