By Paul Goble
Duma members said this week that they would like to transform the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs into a ministry for nationality affairs “with corresponding financing, staffing and authority.” And Igor Barinov, the agency’s head, acknowledged that he was “not against” such a step (kommersant.ru/doc/2945148).
On the one hand, such a move seems unlikely given budgetary stringency at the present time and given that such a decision would be a kind of repudiation of Vladimir Putin who disbanded the ministry of nationality affairs at the start of his first term and has been reluctant to create a genuine replacement.
But on the other, such talk in is being driven by widespread concerns that Moscow has not come up with an effective nationality policy, thus putting the country at risk, and by the inability of the small and underfunded agency to carry out even its limited responsibilities (nazaccent.ru/content/19951-frakciya-ldpr-vystupila-za-novuyu-etnicheskuyu.html).
From the perspective of the Kremlin, there is an even more fundamental problem in this sector. If a government agency for nationality affairs is not given enough power to override other ministries, it will be ineffective because it will not be able to intervene successfully in the work of other agencies.
But if it is given such powers, such an agency would amass so much power that it could threaten the freedom of action of the powers that be, something it seems unlikely Putin would tolerate even if Russians are saying that the absence of a nationality policy and of an agency to carry it out carries with it threats to the future of the country.
Nonetheless, the Duma discussion and Barinov’s apparent interest in encouraging the creation of a ministry for his sector suggests that the Kremlin may decide that it has little choice to create a ministry to give the impression that it is doing something even if the country’s leaders are unwilling to give it the support such a bureaucracy would need to be effective.