By Paul Goble
It is “inevitable” that demands by people in Russia’s regions against Moscow will increase but how radical they become is likely to depend on how long Putin’s centralizing course remains in place, Vadim Shtepa says. The longer the Kremlin leader continues his current course, the more radical they will become.
In an interview with the European Human Rights organization, the editor of the Tallinn-based Russian regionalist portal Region.Expert adds, however, that these movements even if they lead to independence are unlikely to lead to violent conflict among the regions (human-rights-year.com/2023/05/23/vadim-shtepa-regionalizacziya-imperii-predstavlyaetsya-mne-delom-neizbezhnym/ reposted at region.expert/regionalization-interview/).
According to Shtepa, “the chief risk” of violence “is not in the relations among the regions. This is a scarecrows that the Kremlin is seeking to use … In fact, the majority of regions do not have anything to divide among themselves, be they Siberian oblasts or the majority of republics. All of them suffer from one and the same unitary policy” of the center.
“Some interregional conflicts are possible only in the North Caucasus,” he continues. “There the borders were drawn very artificially. Various peoples were united in one republic such as Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachayevo-Cherkessia; and there are others like the Nogais who are split up into various republics.”
“The situation there is really complicated, and I think that some border conflicts are possible. But if there are elections, these will be minimized. If in all Russian regions will be elected their own parliaments, they will not be so sharply concerned about the issue of borders.” Instead, they will be focused on ending Moscow’s dominance.
As far as foreign involvement in this process is concerned, that is likely to be minimal, Shtepa argues. China is getting all it wants now and doesn’t need to take on the burdens of absorbing Siberia; and the West increasingly recognizes that “as long as there exists a gigantic Eurasian hyper-centralized empire, it will constantly threaten its neighbors and Europe.”
The looming defeat of Russia in Ukraine will only intensify such feelings within Russia and around the world. “It is difficult for me to imagine that defeat will not lead to any changes,” Shtepa continues. But the history of 1917 and 1991 suggests that change will come both quickly and unexpectedly.
The emigration can play a role in all this, he says. But it must escape from the unitarist and personalist attitudes that inform the current Moscow elite. Otherwise, those who see themselves as the future leaders of the country will be marginalized by those on the ground who can actually win elections when they take place.