Putin’s Repressions Radicalizing Predominantly Ethnic Russian Regions And Leading Some To Think About Pursuing Independence – OpEd


Many in the Kremlin and many of its Russian opponents act on the assumption that predominantly ethnic Russian regions are solidly in Putin’s corner and that as they form such a large part of the area and population of today’s Russian Federation, the possibility of the country’s disintegration is vanishingly small, Vadim Shtepa says.

But a recent conference in Riga devoted to the possibilities of a Free Ingria that would include within its borders seven million people in the area around St. Petersburg not only shattered that assumption, the editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal says, but highlighted something else as well (region.expert/free-ingria/).

And that is this: While activists in most predominantly ethnic Russian regions until very recently have limited their demands to greater autonomy especially in the economic and fiscal sectors, Putin’s increasingly repressive approach since the start of the mass invasion of Ukraine has radicalized opinion of many and led some to talk about independence as a goal.

It is often pointed out, the regionalist expert says, that “the Russian neo-imperial model was in fact constructed by people from St. Petersburg, Putin and his entourage. But it is not as often recognized that with the growing neo-imperialist tendencies in the Kremlin, the regionalist movement has become ever more popular in St. Petersburg itself.”

“Petersburg and more broadly Ingermanland regionalists appeal to the European traditions of their city and region,” traditions that are at odds with the Russian imperial state Putin is seeking to build, Shtepa continues. And that has to worry the Kremlin leader because it strikes at the center of his conception of what his country is like.

The specialist on regions cites the words of the author of these lines more than six years ago that “the greatest fear of Mr. Putin is the appearance of another country where the basic language will be Russian. He cannot admit to himself that such a thing would be possible,” and so he is doing what he can to prevent it (apostrophe.ua/article/politics/2017-07-23/putin-ne-budet-pravit-vechno-ukraine-doljnyi-pomoch-vernut-kryim-i-donbass—politolog-iz-ssha/13526).

And Shtepa also cites my speech to the Riga conference in which I suggested that the Ingria movement is something likely to have a major impact on the prospects for the de-imperialization of the territory currently within the borders of the Russian Federation (region.expert/precedent/).

 In the Tallinn-based regionalist’s opinion, “the organizers of the Free Ingria Conference proceeded in a very wise fashion: they did not proclaim independence but rather opened a broad social discussion on themes tat will certainly attract the attention of many Petersburgers both in the emigration and those who remain in the motherland.”

Shtepa praises the meeting for its approach but acknowledges that the sessions in Riga left undiscussed “the key problem” of how to achieve in practice regionalist goals in Ingria. It may be, he concedes, that it may be too early to do that but argues that when elections do return, the Free Ingria Party will certainly occupy a leading position in the St. Petersburg parliament.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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