Sunday, August 24, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Russian Actions in Georgia Show Why Tatarstan Must Be Independent, Activists There Say

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 24 – Russian aggression in Georgia is the clearest indication yet of why the oil-rich Republic of Tatarstan in the Middle Volga region must pursue independence from the Russian Federation, according to an appeal released this week by the Tatar Independence Party Ittifak.
The appeal, which has circulated for the last three days by email, has attracted little attention from the media either in Russia or the West, but because it signals that Moscow’s actions in Georgia are affecting non-Russian communities far from the Caucasus, it is important to take note of.
The current Russian leadership, the appeal notes, views “the collapse of the Soviet Union as the biggest tragedy of the 20th century” and thus “under the pretext of peacekeeping and defending the rights’ of the Ossetians and the Abkhazians, Russia invaded the territory of the sovereign state of Georgia.”
This action, the appeal continues, represents “a desperate attempt to expand the borders of the empire, and even if Moscow recognizes the independence of the two breakaway republics, that step “will be [only] a temporary measure, because the long-term, strategic goal of Russia is the annexation” of these places “and the regaining of total control over the Caucasus.”
“A democratic, western-oriented Georgia” represents “a serious obstacle on the way to the fulfillment of Russia’s imperial goals. Unfortunately, [in the current situation] the Ossetians and Abkhazians have played the role of docile puppets in the hands of Moscow,” but “like many other small nations inside Russia, they will become its victims.”
Because the Tatars were “the first nation to be captured by the Russian empire,” the appeal continues, they “know very well what it is to live under Russian domination.” Not surprisingly they voted for independence in 1990 and in 1992, but “because of pressure and threats from Moscow, the international community did not recognize” them as a state.
Up until now, the international community “had been hoping that Russia would become a democratic state.” But “that hasn’t happened.” Instead, as the Georgian events demonstrate, Russia is again pursuing its “old chauvinistic and militaristic course” and “trying to revive the old Soviet empire by brutal force.”
“Under these dire circumstances,” the appeal says, “the Tatar nation has only one way to break away from [this] Russia – asking the international community to recognize [now] the independence of the Republic of Tatarstan,” an admittedly “bold step” that the Moscow “appointed and controlled” leadership of Tatarstan “will never take.”
“The world has recognized the independence of Kosovo,” it notes. “Russia is going to recognize the independence of Georgia’s breakaway regions. Why then cannot the Tatar nation, which has a tradition of independence in the past but was brutally invaded by Russia in 1552 not ask for [and even expect international] recognition of its independence?”
Moscow’s behavior in Georgia is one more reason why “the Republic of Tatarstan must be independent from Russia,” the appeal concludes. Russia has denied the Tatars their right of national self-determination “for centuries,” and it has engaged in the repression and subjugation of minorities throughout its history.
“Please protect us from Russian aggression,” the authors of the appeal ask. In the current environment and given the policies of the current Russian government, “we are compelled to seek assistance from the international community.” “Help us to build a free, democratic and independent country. Oil-rich Tatarstan does not want any more to give aid to Russia.
Obviously, not everyone in Tatarstan agrees with this view, as the authors acknowledge with their reference to the views of the current regime in Kazan, but clearly many do – and almost certainly more than did as little as two weeks ago before Moscow sent the 58th Army into Georgia.
But even if the number of Tatars who share the position of the authors of this appeal remains relatively small, the appearance of such a document now should serve as a reminder that the impact of Moscow’s moves in Georgia inside the Russian Federation is already extending far beyond the North Caucasus into the even more strategically important Middle Volga as well.

NOTE: The author received his copy of the appeal via email. Anyone who would like to receive the complete text, please contact me at, and I will be happy to send it to you.

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