Friday, August 27, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Could a Federal District Become the Basis of an Ethnic Russian Republic?

Paul Goble

Staunton, August 27 – In a move that one Russian commentator suggests lies somewhere between a provocation by Russian regionalists and an effort by a federal district to gain more autonomy, a group called the Civic Initiative for the Establishment of the Zalesskaya Rus’ Republic has proposed transforming the Central Federal District into an ethnic Russian republic.
While it is unlikely that Moscow would ever approve such a measure, it is intriguing on at least three grounds. First, this draft measure calls attention to the growth and increasing sophistication of regionalist groups among ethnic Russians, at least some of whom appear ready to piggyback on the federal districts to promote their agendas.
Second, it suggests, one commentary suggests (, that some federal district officials may be prepared to cooperate or at least exploit these regionalist groups in the hopes that this will gain them greater freedom of action than they current enjoy vis-à-vis the center.
And third, over the longer term, this draft measure is yet another indication of something critics of the federal district system Vladimir Putin set up pointed out early on: Countries divided into a relatively few political units are far more at risk of disintegrating than are those with 50 (the United States) or 83 (the Russian Federation at present).
The Civic Initiative’s proposal takes the form of a 1200-word draft law that has been published on the portal of the Russian National Democratic Alliance. Under its terms, the new federal subject would unite 19 current subjects of the Russian Federation into a Zalesskaya Rus’ Republic (
The purpose of doing so, the draft says, is “the creation of an ethnic Russian national state formation within the Russian Federation and the acceleration of social-economic development of a region having key importance for the Russian Federation and also the raising of the standard of living of the population of the subjects indicated.”
The new unit would as its name implies have the status of a republic, something Russian nationalists and regionalists have long complained Moscow has never given to the ethnic Russians. Most of the provisions of the draft law deal with the transition from the existing federal subjects to this new one and the coordination of laws and practices among them.
But these legal details, while interesting, are far less significant, given the unlikely prospect that any of them would ever be adopted, than are the political calculations behind them, calculations that may link together officials of the federal districts and Russian regionalist and nationalist activists.
And that highlights why this idea is so dangerous: It would create a Russian republic within the Russian Federation, something that in turn would exacerbate tensions between Russians and non-Russians and promote the disintegration of the Russian Federation in much the same way that the rise of Russia within the USSR helped destroy that country.

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