Thursday, April 28, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Regional Paper Considers Impact of Russia’s Possible Disintegration on Samara Oblast

Paul Goble

Staunton, April 28 – Many analysts in Moscow and the West have talked in general terms about what they see as the probable disintegration of the Russian Federation into a number of independent states, but a Samara paper this week has taken the next step and discussed what independence would mean for that oblast.

And while this article’s prognostications are no more certain of coming true than those who discuss this possibility in more general terms, they are interesting and important for what they say about how ordinary people are thinking about such outcomes and what their views say about their current expectations and fears.

In an essay in the Tol’yatti paper “Ponedel’nik,” Aleksandr Gremin says that he is not calling for the disintegration of Russia – that is a criminal offense – but only seeking “to analyze what awaits Samara oblast if in the country for one reason or another begins a parade of sovereignties” (

As he points out, “predictions of Russia’s disintegration into regional principalities, khalifates, republics and confederations” are nothing new. They have been a staple of articles from “serious institutes” in the Russian capital and abroad, with most disturbing prognoses eing “the separation of Siberia from European Russia and a split along the Volga-Urals line.”

If the UN is correct, Gremin continues, by 2030, the population of Russia will “fall to 118 million” and “this means that in Siberia and in the Far East the population will be less than would be needed to keep their territories within Russia.” The North Caucasus will likely have already left, “in a Kosovo scenario,” as soon as “the river of money from Moscow runs out.”

Indeed, given the international community’s interest in the natural resources of the Russian lands, the Kosovo “scenario” is the most probable way the disintegration of Russia will be arranged, with “local referend[a], unilateral declaration[s] of independence, [and] recognition of sovereignty by the key powers, the US, China and the European Union.”

“Kaliningrad is already prepared to run to Europe,” Gremin says, and “the rich national regions like Tatarstan and Bashkortostan are already anticipating the fruits of [such future] independence” from Moscow.

While this process could be violent, it might be peaceful as was the disintegration of the Soviet Union 20 years ago. “The heads of the subjects of the federation could meeting somewhere in Gorki, sign something like the Belovezhe accords, and return to their gubernias already with the status of presidents, general secretaries, beloved leaders, and emperors.”

“You don’t believe this?” Gremin addresses his readers. “But this is precisely what happened in 1991!”

In such a scenario, Samara oblast, he continues, would occupy a “special” position. Samara is a wealthy region, “and up to 70 percent of the taxes collected there go to Moscow.” As a result, “many suppose that with such resources, we [Samarans] having acquired independence would live as the rich, full and happy.”

But Gremin argues, those who think so are mistaken. “Independence would not work in Samara oblast’s favor,” and “here is why.” On the one hand, Moscow would not want to give us up, and on the other, very quickly, “other strong young states” would “immediately become interested in us.”

“Look at a map,” the journalist suggests. Samara would find itself in that event wedged between “one Islamic world – Kazakhstan, Turkey and Iran – and another Islamic world Kazan and Ufa.” Neighboring Orenburg, “also a Russian area rich with oil and gas,” would find itself “in a similar situation.”

As a result, “Samara oblast will never be a self-standing independent state.” Instead it will be fought over by Moscow and “a Tatar-Kazakh alliance.” Indeed that has happened before and “more than once.” And “all our cities – Samara, Saratov, Orenburg and Stavropol – were founded as fortresses, as fortified regions and bases for the conduct of military operations.”

“In the medium term historical perspective,” Gremin suggests, “Samara oblast would automatically fall into the sphere of interests of the Islamic world and territorially would be included apparently within Tatarstan and not Moscow – in part because we the local population already today do not like the Moscow occupation regime and often spend weekends in Kazan.”

Can such a scenario be avoided? Gremin asks rhetorically, and then he observes that “the majority of researches are convinced that it already cannot be. In the ‘blessed’ [first decade of this century] powere was occupied already by others than those that were needed” for an alternative future.

The journalist’s concluding advice to his Russian readers is “Learn Tatar.”

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