Vienna, January 3 – The Russian Federation runs the risk of falling apart sometime within the next quarter century if Moscow fails to do away with its non-Russian republics or alternatively tries to do away with those territorial units in an incautiously rapid way, according to a leading Moscow analyst.
In an article on the Snob.ru portal last week, Nikolay Zlobin argues that “without doing away with [its existing] internal national-administrative arrangements, Russia risks falling into pieces in the next few decades” for many of the same reasons that led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 (www.snob.ru/selected/entry/29528).
Zlobin says that he recalls the way in which the national formations within the USSR worked not only because of their impact on the USSR but also because “at a recent session of the State Council of Russia unexpectedly arose the question about the Soviet experience of nationality relations.”
Both Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev weighed in on this issue. Putin said “in the Soviet Union there were no such problems with inter-national relations” because among other reasons there was an ideological construct, “the Soviet people,” a construct “we do not have today” and that Russia should follow the Soviet model and promote “all-Russian patriotism.”
Medvedev for his part argued among other things that “Russia is different” than the Soviet Union and that the experience of the latter thus does not provide a perfect model for the former. Moreover, he said, it is because of these differences that Russia today has both “our additional possibilities and our problems.”
Zlobin offers ten comments on these two very different observations. First, he says, “the USSR can in no way be considered a successful model of the solution of the nationality quesiton.” Nationality issues were less often manifested in the streets because of totalitarian control, but that was not a measure of success or, as 1991 showed, a guarantee of survival.
Second, “pre-revolutionary Russia also was not a successful model of nationality realitions” and that ‘was one of the causes of its collapse.” Third, the history of the USSR does offer some “positive” ideas on national strategy, and that its “language, cultural-educational and scientific-technical policies” help explain why it came apart “comparatively peacefully.”
Fourth, “Russian retains up to ow the national-administrative arrangements of the RSFSR, something that not only does not correspond to the contemporary stage of its development but is,” Zlobin says, “the basis of its possible future collapse as this occurred in tsarist Russia and the USSR.”
Fifth, he continues, “for the resolution of the nationality qusiton is needed a complete rejection of the international national division of Russia,” but he adds that “today this is impossible,” arguing that this goal must be pursued “gradually but consistently” despite the political risks to those who propose it.
Sixth, “any proposals for tightening domestic migration legislation not only bear an anti-market and anti-modernization character but as the experience of the USSR and also a number of other countries show, in the final analysis are ineffective and even harmful for they potentially lead to the exacerbation of ethnic contradictions.”
Seventh, Zlobin adds, “without doing away with [its] internal national-administrative division, Russia has every chance to fall apart in the next quarter of a century when the new generation of [non-ethnic] Russians will become the basis of its demography” and that this collapse “again will take place along the borders of the national formations.”
Eighth, Zlobin warns, “an illiterate and poorly thought through strategy of the perestroika of the internal arrangement of Russia with the goal of doing away with the national-administrative structure will also lead to the collapse of the single state or even to a broad scale civil war.”
Ninth, Zlobin insists, “the preservation of the territorial unity of Russia is the most important task which corresponds to the strategic national interests of all the people show live in it and also to the interests of the world community.” And tenth, Zlobin notes, he would be very glad if his prognostication turns out to be wrong because it would be “a catastrophe.”
Zlobin’s arguments in turn generate at least three serious reactions. First, the situation he describes, one in which Russia is in trouble if it does not change its internal ethnic borders and is also in trouble if it does so incautiously fast means that the nationality issues in that country are going to be at the center rather than the periphery of politics for a long time to come.
Second, many non-Russians have long understood this situation and thus recognize that any move against them presages further moves, an understanding that makes the future far more difficult in the future than it was in the past and reduces the center’s ability to play divide and rule politics.
And third, it is far from clear that all of the non-Russians or even all of the members of the international community believe that “the preservation of the territorial unity of Russia” corresponds to their “strategic national interests.” Mikhail Gorbachev made the same argument 25 years ago, but the USSR fell apart anyway.