Staunton, February 5 – Secessionist attitudes in the Russian Far East are even stronger than they were five years ago when Dmitry Melnikov warned that business people there wanted to get out from under Moscow and be “adopted” by Beijing, Tokyo or Washington, according to the “Coast of Russia” portal.
And Moscow must respond, the editors of that portal continue, by adopting the same strategy Russian governments have used in the past to disorder regionalist and separatist movements: redraw the internal administrative borders in order that this opposition cannot become stronger in the course of elections (beregrus.ru/?p=5856).
Melnikov’s 2010 article (stoletie.ru/politika/a_ne_otdat_li_nam_dalnij_vostok_2010-05-24.htm) in large measure because he argued that the leading forces of secession in the Russian Far East were not romantic intellectuals but hard-headed businessmen who had concluded they could make more money if they got out from under Moscow and became part of another state.
Today, the Coast of Russia editors say, Melnikov’s argument “has not lost its importance. On the contrary, there is ever more evidence that the author was right. Now, even local newspapers admit that in the Primorsky kray have already grown up a new category of ‘businessmen’ who want to block ‘the influence of Moscow’ in the region.”
These people are actively involved with seeking power in regional governments and “intend to offer their candidacies at upcoming elections to the Legislative Assembly of Primorsky kray.” Unfortunately, the editors continue, “such tendencies have seized not only [that region]. Now, ill-concealed separatism is gathering force across the Far East.”
In the face of this challenge, they argue, Moscow should revise in a major way “the existing arrangements of the administrative-territorial division of the Far Eastern Federal District,” thus disordering “corrupt ties” there. Moreover, they suggest, Moscow should move the capital of the district from Khabarovsk to Yakutsk or to a new city located near there.”
Whether secessionist attitudes are really as strong as the Coast of Russia would have it is far from clear: Opposition to Moscow’s heavy-handednesss is not the same as support for secession although the one can lead to the other. But what is interesting -- and potentially important for more than the Far East -- is the proposal to redraw internal borders.
Historically, Moscow has done that when it faced or feared that it faced regional opposition or secession. When Stalin concluded that he faced a “Far Eastern conspiracy” in the late 1930s, his first act, even before mass arrests, was to subdivide the area in order to disorder his opponents and open the way for him to install his own people in the new top slots.
It is intriguing that as Russia enters a new electoral cycle, some are thinking along the same lines, a reflection of the fact, highlighted by a new report by URA.ru that in the regions from the Urals to the Pacific protests are rapidly shifting from the economic to the political (ura.ru/news/1052239420).
Redrawing borders of federal subjects and even electoral districts in an act of super-Gerrymandering – might slow that process and thus protect the current holders of power regionally and at the center. But there is a real danger that it could provoke even more intense dissent.
That is suggested by the launch of a new project in Buryatia to assemble information about just how Moscow handled the referendum leading to the absorption of the Ust-Orda Autonomous District by Irkutsk Oblast in 2006, an action that AsiaRussia.ru reports cost some Buryats their lives and still rankles with many (asiarussia.ru/persons/11091/).