Vienna, July 1 – In recent statements, some of which eerily recall writer Valentin Rasputin’s 1989 proposal that Russia should leave the Soviet Union, some Russian nationalists are now arguing that their nation both as a people and a state would be far better off if it were to jettison the North Caucasus and possibly other non-Russian regions as well.
Such ideas are not entirely new – indeed, their authors have sometimes been classified by scholars as “little Russia” nationalists – and they are certainly not widespread, with most ethnic Russians still committed to the defense of the borders of their country without much regard to the costs involved for themselves or those living in those regions.
But the appearance of such arguments now, ones that in the words of one commentator appear to reflect “the general tiredness and entropy of the Russian nation and its hatred toward a self-satisfied government monster,” are intriguing as an indication of the first stages of a possible tectonic shift in Russian views much like the one of 20 years ago.
The first of the three expressing such views was the radical poet Alina Vitukhnovskaya who told a discussion group of the United Civic Front (OGF) that she begins from the proposition that “having ceased to exist historically, Russia has nonetheless remained in its former borders,” something she suggested has given rise to many of the nation’s problems.
She argued, according to a report posted on Kasparov.ru today, that “the Russian state is degrading and falling apart and soon it will not exist in its current form.” There won’t be a revolution, even though the “Gorbachev-Yeltsin project” had failed. And that change will come as a result of invasion, “technogenic catastrophe, or “fratricidal clashes.”
Not surprisingly, Vitukhnovskaya’s prediction was immediately criticized. Sergey Davidis of Russian Solidarity said that here views represented “a nihilistic tendency which expresses the general tiredness and entropy of the Russian nation and its hatred to a self-satisfied state monster” (www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=4A4B344864F00).
And he continued that her program consisted of advocating “’the amputation’ of Chechnya and a few other ‘low-quality’ regions, giving the remain complete freedom of self-determination, ending all talk about ‘territorial integrity’ and ‘Russian statehood’ as such, and rejecting the slightest amount of centralization.”
In that way, Davidis suggested, Vitukhnovskaya was calling for a campaign “to attempt to expel ‘the Asiatic’ and ‘Muscovite’ aspects” from Russian life, qualities that she sees as the chief bearers of ‘the virus of despotism.’” And having done all that, having assumed that things can’t get worse than they are now, he said, she suggests, only that “we shall see.”
The second of the three people pushing the idea that Russia and Russians would benefit from letting some the non-Russian regions of the country depart was Mikhail Dzyubenko, a philologist who is also an OGF activist. Speaking to the same group, he said that Russia “does not still exist” and that it is necessary to “destroy the traditional Russian state mythology.”
Arguing that the idea that all residents of the Russian Federation could form a supra-ethnic Russian nation, Dzyubenko said that this was as absurd as suggesting that “the French together will the Algerians could be a political nation.” And he insisted that the various nations must have the right to decide their own fate.
“How can a ‘federation’ exist where the subjects do not agree among themselves but only with a certain abstract ‘federal center’” as is the case in the Russian Federation today, he asked rhetorically. And challenged to say what the Russian nation should do when it formed a genuine federation with “’problem’” North Caucasus republics, his answer was simple.
“Don’t take them in,” he said. In the recreation of the Federation, [simply] don’t invite them as members. As far as Bashkortostan and Tatarstan are concerned, where the titular nationalities are outnumbered by Russians, he suggested that the peoples living in those places should have the right to decide what to do.
One participant in this discussion said that however strange these ideas may seem, they could yet come to pass. “Who in the middle of the 1980s could have predicted that the USSR would fall apart? Now it is completely uncertain where the curve of history is leading. [And] it is unknown whether the Russian Federation will exist five or ten years from now.”
The third representative of this trend was Russian blogger Mikhail Pozharsky, who offered his vision of “Russia Without the Caucasus” on the Prague Watchdog site on June 12, an article that was posted on a Russian portal today, in the wake of the assassination attempt against Ingush President Yukus-Bek Yevkurov (kontury.info/publ/57-1-0-132ингушетия).
In a 3300-word essay, Pozharsky argued that “the North Caucasus the most problem-filled region in contemporary Russia” and that Russia would be better off, something the Russian government itself would recognize if it worked “not in the interests of state corporations and a limited circle of well-known people but in the interests of the Russian nation itself.”
Saying that he was referring to the following republics – Daghestan, Chechnya, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, North Ossetia, and Ingushetia – Pozharsky says history shows they will never live peacefully with Russians in one country, will always require large subventions from the center, and will offer little of value if kept inside Russia’s borders.
The leaders of both the Russian Empire and the USSR understood that they could not integrate these areas but only subjugate them “by harsh but effective methods” in order to control access to the republics and countries to the south. But Pozharsky continued, the current Russian government does not appear to understand that at all.
On the one hand, Moscow has now declared its war there a “counter-terrorist operation,” thus “putting Russian soldiers in a situation when they are de facto fighting against the entire Chechen people but de jure against terrorists whom they are required somehow to distinguish from ‘peaceful citizens.’”
And on the other, the Russian government has given power to the Kadyrovs and others, something the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union never did, ruling the region with generals “appointed from Petersburg” in the first case and putting ethnic Russians in real charge of the situation on the ground.
“The transfer of the North Caucasus entirely into the hands of indigenous local clans,” Pozharsky said, “is a completely Putinist innovation” which none of his predecessors would have trusted to work. And post-Soviet Moscow has allowed the uninterrupted flow of North Caucasians into Russian cities, something that increasingly troubles many.
Continuing in this way, he argues, will be possible only “at the price of great human and material losses.” That may be “profitable” for those who like the local leaders get money from the budget or for Rosneft and Gazprom. And it will certainly be “profitable for the Caucasus clans.” But it won’t be for the Russian people and for Russia.
The only means for solving the Caucasus problem “once and for all,” Pozharsky argued, is to “separate the republics of the North Caucasus,” fortify the borders, introduce a strict visa regime, deport North Caucasians now in Russian cities, and help “the few Russians” remaining in the North Caucasus to come back to Russia proper.
Pozharsky acknowledged that not all Russian nationalists agree with him, but he suggested that this idea could prove more popular than many think, noting that polls have shown that majorities of Russians are prepared to cut their country’s losses and do without the “benefits” the current Moscow leadership keeps telling them the North Caucasus brings.