Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s ‘Constructive Separatism’ in ‘Near Abroad’ Backfires in Russia

Paul Goble

Vienna, December 29 – Abkhazia and South Ossetia are only the first examples of Moscow’s policy of “constructive ‘separatism’” in the wake of NATO’s decision to recognize Kosovo, according to a Moscow analyst. And both the region and the world, he says, should prepare themselves for analogous “geopolitical shifts” in the post-Soviet states.
But if the Russian government is interested in promoting separatist challenges in Ukraine and other countries through the sponsorship of groups like the Ruthenians, Moscow is equally committed to preventing any manifestations of the right of nations to self-determination on its own territory and to blocking any outside support for them.
In an article about “constructive ‘separatism’” posted online last week, Leonid Savin provides both a general argument about the nature of separatism in the contemporary world and a specific discussion of the application of that argument to Ukraine and by extension to other post-Soviet states (geopolitica.ru/Articles/443/).
Separatism, the Moscow analyst notes, “is connected with various factors,” including historically rooted hostility between groups, policy mistakes, state failure, and the principles of national self-determination as laid out in a variety of international charters to which most countries of the world are signatories.
At present, he says, these factors are coming together in many places in the world. He mentions Somalia and Norway, among others, but nowhere are they playing a greater combined role than in some of the post-Soviet states and especially in the most populous non-Russian republic, Ukraine.
Savin cites the observation of Oleg Bakhtiyarov, the director of Kyiv’s University for Effective Development, on this point. According to the latter, “separatism is a protest against state weakness and the inability to create new values which unify society.” It thus challenges states “either to become stronger, smarter or more creative” or to fall apart.
“Crimea and Subcarpathian Rus’ are no exception” to this pattern, Bakhtiyarov continues. Either Kyiv will find “a vector unifying people and protecting the internal variety of Ukraine[‘s population] or separatism – Crimean, Ruthenian and then Donets, Slobozhan, and then Galician and Volhynian – will make of the Ukrainian idea only a memory.”
Given that danger, Savin argues, “Ukraine ought to reach out to the Ruthenians who are lawfully demanding autonomy within Ukraine … and to the Crimean Tatars” who otherwise will pursue their goal “the creation of a national state on the territory of the autonomous republic of Crimea.”
According to Savin, Kyiv to date has “preferred the carrot and stick method” of dealing with ethnic challenges, providing carrots to smaller groups who pose no real challenge to Ukraine’s territorial integrity but employing sticks whenever larger nations such as the Crimean Tatars and the Ruthenians demand their rights.
And he concludes that Moscow has every right to get involved. After all, he notes, “until 1945, the Transcarpathian oblast was part of Czechoslovakia and was transferred not to Soviet Ukraine but to the USSR (the treaty was signed by Molotov). And according to the logic of international law,” he suggests, Russia as “the legal successor” of the USSR thus has rights there.
That is why, Savin says by way of conclusion, “Ruthenian society has turned to Russia with a request to recognize their independence.”
But Moscow is not willing to acknowledge the rights of nations living within the current borders of the Russian Federation. Last week, OMON officers showed up at the residences of two leaders of the Kazan Tatar independence movement, Fauziya Bayramova and Faik Taziyev, in an effort to intimidate them (kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2008/12/25/63027.shtml).
At the same time, prosecutors called in the editor of the local Tatar-language youth newspaper, “Chally yash’lere,” and issued him a warning for publishing the text of the Declaration of Independence of Tatarstan. And officials blocked the website of another Tatar independence activist, Zulfiya Kadir.
Despite these actions, the Milli Mejlis, a body which unites Tatars interested in pursuing independence, managed to attract more than 100 delegates to a congress in Naberezhny Chelny, to announce the formation of a Tatar government in exile, and to issue an appeal calling on member states of the United Nations to recognize Tatarstan.
That effort is unlikely to succeed in the near term, but Moscow’s likely response – the use of the force structures against anyone who seeks to make such demands – almost certainly will not succeed either. Indeed, using force in this context likely will be the functional equivalent of fighting a grease fire with water.
As one St. Petersburg analyst noted last week, Moscow’s response to events in Russia’s regions shows that the center continues to believe that “’if you have force, you don’t need to think.” That may work for a time, Mikhail Olgertov says, but in the end, “he who sows the wind will reap a whirlwind” (www.ingria.info/?biblio&news_action=show_news&news_id=4227).

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