Monday, December 2, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Media Stories on Possible Russian Disintegration Double Since 2010 -- Real Fears or Something Else?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 2 – The Russian media are featuring stories about the possibility of the disintegration of the Russian Federation twice as often now as they did three years ago, an apparent measure of Moscow’s nervousness about control but in at least some cases, a provocation intended to justify authoritarianism, autarchy, and a purge of regional elites.

            According to one Russian analyst, who spoke with on conditions of anonymity, Russia faces “dismemberment” as the result of the joint efforts of foreign powers like the United States and China and regional elites who want to have greater control over the natural resources in their territories (

            He said he had decided to go public about a report prepared by his employer in order to warn the Russian people and government about what he said was an imminent threat, one in which “the dismemberment of Russia will begin in the Far East” and then spread, reducing the country to the size of Mucovy in the 15th century.

            The analyst’s words clearly suggest some real fears, but they are so specific about both the foreign governments and regional officials involved that they appear to set the stage or at least test the waters for a more authoritarian and isolationist Russia and for the purge of regional elites, particularly in Siberia and the Russian Far East.

            They are thus discussed here not because they are necessarily true – indeed, they reflect the kind of apocalyptic alarmism that often is found in such discussions – but rather because they say a great deal about how some in the Russian capital are thinking and consequently what they may want to do next.

            The anonymous analyst says that his institution was contracted by a “little known” western one that undoubtedly represented some more powerful figures like the Russian president or the US Department of State, but he offers no evidence for that claim.  What he does offer is a detailed picture of how he at least views the world and the future of Russia.

            He argues that recent geopolitical and geo-economic moves by the United States and China have triggered the concerns his report reflects.  Among these, he suggests, are claims that Russia currently has “a poor investment climate,” something that is keeping money from flowing in but a finding that would be quickly reversed for regions which get out from under Moscow.

            But there are also internal developments that represent a threat to the country’s territorial integrity, including the promotion of “Siberian” as a nationality and the idea that the regions should control the resources on their own territories rather than share the wealth with Moscow and the country as a whole.

            That the United States and other foreign powers want to dismember Russia in order to weaken Moscow and gain access to raw materials in Russia’s regions should come as no surprise, the analyst says, nor, given the experience of the end of the USSR, should the actions of regional officials be anything unexpected.

            In case anyone has forgotten, “the collapse of the USSR was carried out by the communist leaders of the national republics. In Russia, these former communist leaers have become heads of the subjects of the federation.” Despite or perhaps because of everything that has happened since 1991, many of them may be asking themselves “why not” repeat 1991?

            Challenged on this point by his interviewer who suggested that Moscow’s cadres shifts in the last two decades had undercut such a threat, the anonymous analyst said that one should not assume that the idea of separation and thus gaining control isn’t continually reborn “always and everywhere.”

            Moreover, he suggests, the nature of cadres changes in the Russian Federation varies among the regions.  In European Russia, there has been a genuine revolution with Moscow dispatching its own people to head the federal subjects. But this has not occurred in the Far East where, except for Primorsky Kray, despite changes, local people have remained in charge.

            The analyst adds that in contrast to Central Russia, the economy in the Far East has remained separate from the processes of amalgamation and division. And as a result and because of China, “the heads of the Far Eastern regions who are inclined toward separatism can play a key role in the separation from Moscow first of the Far East and then of Siberia and the Urals.”

                Despite their protestations of loyalty to Moscow, he continues, the heads of these regions are most concerned about maintaining control over local business interests. If they are guaranteed that as were the leaders of the Soviet SSRs, “they would hand over the Far East even to Martians.”

            The unnamed Russian analyst focuses so much of his attention on Viktor Ishayev, the presidential plenipotentiary for the Far Eastern Federal District, suggesting that he will form something like the Siberian Agreement of the 1990s in the Far East soon, that even his interviewer asks why the analyst hasn’t named anyone else.

            The analyst then suggests there are others but he doesn’t name them. Instead, he goes on to say that there are “two regions” in the Russian Federation where Moscow “has essentially surrendered its positions: Chechnya and the Far East.” The Chechen case is obvious, but the Far East is less so because it is more about economics than ethnicity.

            In the Far East, he continues, “there is no taip system, but regional identities and ‘understandings’ are strong.” Federal control is “extremely low,” the level of corruption “extremely high,” and “the level of crime in the Far East over the last year alone rose by seven percent.”

            It is unclear whether the Kremlin fully understands the dangers of this, the analyst says.  It is instead focusing on second-tier issues like the Magnitsky list. 

            He then lays out his group’s scenario for the disintegration of the Russian Federation: First, a Beloveshchaya-type accord among the subjects of the Far East followed by an ultimatum to Moscow, one supported by the Americas, the Europeans and the Chinese, all of whom will want access to resources but none of whom will want the other to occupy ground.

            According to his scenarios, there will then form a Far Eastern Republic consisting of Primorsky and Khabarovsk krays, the Amur oblast, and part of the Transbaikal kray), the Magadan Republic consisting of Magadan oblast, Kamchatka kray and Chukotka, Greater Yakutia extending “from the ocean to China and thus cutting off part of Irkutsk oblast and the Transbaikal kray.

            Then, a Krasnoyark of Eastern Siberian Republic will form along the Yenisey and become part of a Siberian Confederation.  A Greater Urals Republic, he continues, will unite Sverdlovsk, Chelyabiinsk, and Kurgan oblast and “possibly parts of Orenburg and Kirov oblasts and Perm kray.

            After that, a Volga Confederation will emerge and a Northern Accord extending from Pskov to the Nenets AD. The Black Earth zone will fall away from Moscow, “probably with the help of Ukraine, and the North Caucasian republics will seize Stavropol and Krasnodar krays.

            As a result, “the Moscow ‘principality’ will be reduced to the Central Non-Black Earth zone with the dimensions it had in the 15th century,” the analyst says.

            Of course, the unnamed analyst concedes, the actual course of developments may vary from this. Indeed, almost everyone else would say his projections go beyond the absurd. But whatever happens, he insists, “the Russian Empire very probably will end its existence forever in the very near future.”

            The only way out – and this is probably the unnamed analyst’s real message – is for all the peoples of Russia to unite under “a strong and just leader,” to change the current arrangements that allow the regions so much power, and to adopt an autarchic and socialist economy to ensure that Moscow controls the situation.

No comments:

Post a Comment