Developing Horizontal Ties Among Regions Key To Defending Against Further Attacks On Federalism In Russia – OpEd


People in the regions and republics of the Russian Federation can take heart from the back that their resistance to Vladimir Putin’s efforts to create a highly centralized unitary state have not been entirely successful, but they must recognize that their situation now is much worse than it was only a few years ago, Dmitry Oreshkin says.

Russia’s regions and republics by their resistance were able to slow and then stop Putin’s plan to amalgamate the federal subjects, to reduce his federal districts to little more than “sinecures for failed politicians,” and to make the regions and republics little more than branch offices of the center, the political analyst says (

But with time, Oreshkin continues, the center became both more clever and more ruthless, something that has left both the officials and the population of the country’s regions and republics in a far weaker position than they were in only a few years ago, with the ability of non-state actors especially diminished.

Nonetheless, he argues, there are at least three things that activists in the republics and regions can do defend federalism and promote their own distinct interests. First, they can form alliances with officials in the region, something that gives the latter a resource in their dealings with Moscow, although a much smaller one than in the past.

Second, they can go to court against central institutions that exceed their legitimate rights and, although they are unlikely to win, use such actions and other media means to spread the word about what Moscow is doing and attract more support for resisting the growing centralization of the Russian state.

And third – and this is by far the most important role civic activists can play – they can promote the development of horizontal ties among regions and republics, something that will ensure that any positive development in one place is known and copied elsewhere and thus becomes more difficult for Moscow to stop, Oreshkin continues.

The ongoing controversy about making non-Russian language instruction entirely voluntary while keeping instruction in Russian mandatory underscores the importance of this role, the political analyst says. “Before the language conflict,” he says, “the North Caucasus did not know that in the Middle Volga regional languages were often languages of instruction; and the Middle Volga wasn’t aware about the weak presence of Caucasus languages in education.”

Once each became aware of the other as a result of the work of civic activists, the two were able to cooperate; and although they have not won out in this case, they are now far better positioned than they were a year ago to resist other attacks on federalism and their rights emanating from Moscow.

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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