By Paul Goble
Bashkir nationalists who won their spurs in successful protests against the exploitation of the Kushtau chalk deposit have announced the formation of an armed resistance movement to oppose what they say is “not our war” by firebombing military centers and the offices of political parties and to pursue state independence for Bashkortostan.
On September 21, when Putin declared his partial mobilization, the anonymous Telegram channel “The Committee of Bashkir Resistance” announced itself and declared that the goal of its members is that “Bashkortostan will be free” (verstka.media/vooruzhennoe-soprotivlenie-bashkortostana/).
Two days later, the channel called for firebombing military commissariats in order to prevent the mobilization of Bashkirs; and on September 24, someone threw a fire bomb at the offices of United Russia in the Bashkir city of Salavat. That was followed on October 3 by the firebombing of the KPRF offices there.
The Committee of Bashkir Resistance demanded that Ufa officials stop the mobilization program in Bashkir and Tatar areas, an action they described as “a cover ethnocide of the autochthonian population” of the Middle Volga. Then, on October 6, the military commissariat in Arkhangelsk district 65 kilometers from Ufa was firebombed.
Bashkir officials have not commented on these actions, and no one has been arrested on suspicion of being involved. In his comments, Ruslan Gabbasov, the émigré leader of the Bashkir nationalists, leaves little doubt that these attacks were the work of the Committee and its supporters.
Gabbasov like Bashkir nationalists more generally has been radicalized by the attack on Ukraine. Earlier, he set up the Bashkort organization to promote federalism in Russia, but now he is openly calling for Bashkortostan to be an independent country based on the formation of “a Bashkir political nation” consisting of its entire population.
Other Bashkir activists issued calls for their co-nationals to go underground to fight Moscow’s mobilization campaign and then seek independence for their republic. All reject the idea that Bashkirs should fight and die “for ‘a Russian world’” or even remain part of the Russian Federation.
Analysts are taking this movement seriously. Abbas Gallyamov, who earlier served in the Ufa government, says that the underground groups have financing from major local businessmen and that while they are not large – to be effective as conspiracies, they can’t be, he argues – they can be the centers around which others will form if Moscow weakens.
And Russian political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin says that what is occurring shows that Bashkortostan “is becoming the first swallow among the republics which are talking about independence.” Its activists are passing through the same phases national movements in the former Soviet Union did, and therefore they must be taken seriously.
According to Oreshkin, “Putin’s strategy is leading to the disintegration of the country. He began a war and opened the gates for such processes. The mistakes of the Kremlin authorities are now giving all this a powerful stimulus.” He also observes that this situation has left republic head Murtazza Rakhimov in a difficult position.
In the past, Rakhimov has used the nationalists as a scarecrow to extract help from Moscow; but now, Oreshkin suggests, he is likely to be viewed as the ally not of the center but of the nationalists and purged quickly lest Moscow lose even more control over that Middle Volga republic