Saturday, February 25, 2017

Another North Caucasian Republic – Daghestan – Sliding into Chaos and Illegality

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 25 – For several years, it has been a commonplace that Ramzan Kadyrov’s Chechnya is part of Russia in name only and that its relationship with the rest of Russia reflects Kadyrov’s ties with Vladimir Putin rather than the commitment of either Grozny or Moscow to ensure the Chechen Republic lives according to the Russian constitution and laws.

            But there has been less attention to the fact that another republic in the North Caucasus – Daghestan – has also been slipping out of the Russian legal system and no longer can be said to be part of that system or even to have a special relationship between its leader, Ramazan Abdulatipov, and the Russian president.

            Moscow’s repeated claims that everything in the North Caucasus is getting better, that the insurgency is over, and that the authorities have everything in hand has distracted many from recognizing that Daghestan may be on its way to becoming a more lawless and less controlled republic than even Chechnya under Kadyrov.

            On Wednesday, some 50 officials and activists from Daghestan met in Moscow to discuss the problems of the republic at a forum organized by Maksim Shevchenko, a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, and with the significant title “Let Us Return the Russian Constitution to Daghestan” (

            Speaker after speaker argued that “the social, political, and economic situation in the republic is close to catastrophic – ‘the people are getting poorer while the powers that be are getting richer’ and the level of trust by the population in the authorities is within the margin of statistical insignificance.”

            According to the report in the current issue of Makhachkala’s Chernovik, the speakers pointed to “the hostile attitude of the powers to a significant portion of Muslims, the lack of work with young people, legal arbitrariness,” and the spread of disease in the population because officials did nothing.

            Many said that Makhachkala had openly falsified elections and all “recommended” that Abdulatipov retire “’if he in fact loves Daghestan.’”  They indicated, however, that the republic’s problems weren’t limited to Abdulatipov because in the words of one, “there isn’t one Abdulatipov; there are thousands of Abdulatipovs.”

            And they did not spare Moscow and the Kremlin either in their critique. Magomed Abdulkhabirov, a member of the Russian Social Chamber, said that instead of paying attention to letters from Daghestanis, officials in the Russian capital simply send them back to Makhachkala where measures, often repressive ones, are taken.

            Besides calling for the ouster of Abdulatipov, the participants in the Moscow meeting also demanded direct elections of the head of the republic, representation of all groups in the republic government, and greater transparency in the way that the republic authorities operate so that Daghestanis can ensure they again work within the law.

            Summing up, Shevchenko said that under Abdulatipov, the cities of Daghestan had decayed and the regions had been “thrown to their fates.”  The powers that be now operate entirely outside the law and the constitution, and they “conceal from the center the situation in the republic and deceive the president.”

Putin has So Tarnished Russia’s Reputation Many Now Blame It for Things It Didn’t Do, Ganapolsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 25 – Vladimir Putin is a Russophobe’s dream: he has so tarnished Russia’s reputation by his actions and lies about them that increasingly people around the world are ready to blame him and his country for things that in fact he and Moscow didn’t do, according to Matvey Ganapolsky.

            But if the enemies of Russia are not unhappy, the Moscow commentator says, Russians should be because this perception is driving the behavior of others and there is little in the short run that Moscow can do about it to correct the situation. Instead, it finds itself having produced exactly the reverse of what it wants (

                Moreover, Ganapolsky continues, others will continue to view Russia in this way even if it should happen that Putin and Moscow should suddenly stop engaging in subversion and lies because everyone will continue to assume that they are doing exactly what they have done in the past.

                One may even say that this is “the first case in history when there is no direct evidence of Russian participation in American intrigues but when all are convinced” that they have done even more evil than in fact is the case and that Americans, for example, are now blaming Trump for his involvement in what they believe to have happened.

            This is like an inversion of the story of the little boy who cried “wolf” when there wasn’t one and then was eaten by one because no one would believe him when real wolves came. “With Russia, it is just the reverse, it is clearly silent but the wolves are running around and gobbling up all in order.”

            Perhaps in fact there are no wolves, Ganapolsky says, “but everyone sees Russians as wolves because Russia has taught the world not to believe it in the case of ‘little green men’ which weren’t and in the Donbass where miners and tractor drivers are fighting” according to Kremlin propaganda.

            By his actions and lies, Putin has achieved something few might have thought possible: he has reduced the reputation of Russia to that of Libya, Iraq and Iran.” And that means that everyone will assume that whenever anything bad happens anywhere in the world, Russia must somehow be implicated.

            Putin may see this as evidence that Russia is now again a superpower, but “this coin has two sides,” and the second is anything but good for him or for his country, Ganapolsky says. Trump, for example, may have wanted to improve ties with Russia; but Russian actions have made Putin “radioactive.” And now the US president will be force to be tougher than ever.

             How Putin and Russia will escape from the disaster that the Kremlin leader has created in this case is far from clear, but the consequences of his actions are increasingly obvious and increasingly at odds with the national interests of Russia and the Russian people.

Will Moscow Disband Non-Russian Republics Only to Create Larger Regionalist Challenges to Itself?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 25 – Rumors have been swirling this week that the Kremlin is about to disband the non-Russian republics and reorganize the country into larger regions centered on major cities.  Whether these rumors are true is an open question, but if Moscow does take that step, it almost certainly will be triggering far more serious regional challenges to itself.

            Last Sunday, Fauziya Bayramova, a leading Tatar activist, told a Nizhnekamsk meeting that she had been told by an unnamed source in the entourage of Tatarstan’s president that “a decision to liquidate [Tatarstan] had already been taken in Moscow” (in Tatar at; in Russian at

            The idea, she said, is that Moscow wants “to unite around major cities and around Kazan. The position of the president of the republic will not remain nor will any other national republics. [And] there won’t be a law on state languages of Tatarstan. According to Bayramova, Tatarstan will be united with Mari El, Chuvashia and Ulyanovsk oblast but not with Bashkortostan lest Muslims form a majority in the new entity.

            Bayramova’s remarks have triggered discussions in Tatarstan and the Middle Volga.  Most experts dismiss her remarks as baseless, arguing that despite Moscow’s oft-expressed desire to amalgamate regions and republics, her description of what the center plans to do is highly improbable (

                Most observers suggested that such a move would be harmful for Tatarstan and would be resisted by any Russian oblast or other non-Russian republic Moscow might try to include within any such entity.  And they suggested that such rumors are an entirely natural phenomenon given fears about whether Moscow’s power-sharing treaty with Kazan will be extended this summer.

            But one commentator with whom Radio Liberty’s Tatar-Bashkir Service spoke, Konstantin Strokin, a political scientist in Mari El, raised the question as to whether such a larger entity to be called a guberniya or something else might represent a serious challenge to Moscow itself.

            He said that Finno-Ugric nations would oppose any such unity given the sad experience of their co-ethnics in the former Komi-Permyak autonomous district which Putin forced into Perm kray a decade ago and that they would see any such development not as a new combination but as “the swallowing” of their republics by others, Tatar or Russian.

            But perhaps Strokin’s most important observation is the following. He suggested that “in principle, it isn’t very probable that Moscow, having overcome financial asymmetry will go along the path of creating a super-nation and multi-confessionall mega-subject in which the share of ethnic Russians would fall below 50 percent.”

            To do so, he suggested, would be “an unjustified risk,” given the kind of political configuration in Russia would change if it were not a federation of more than 80 subjects but rather one of a dozen or fewer.  Strokin did not say what many have pointed out: federations with a small number of units are more at risk of collapse than ones with larger numbers.

            Nor did he or any of the other experts Ideal.Real interviewed mention what almost certainly must be on the minds of most: A century ago, the Maris, Chuvash, Udmurts, Mordvins, Komis, Komi-Permyaks, Kalmyks and Tatars came together a declared an independent Idel-Ural Republic.

            That state did not exist for long: it was suppressed by the Red Army.  But memories of it continue to exist and may serve as a warning to Moscow. Were the center to create a super-region in the Volga-Urals region – and that is what “Idel-Ural” means in Turkic – Moscow would confront a force far stronger than Tatarstan or any other republic.

            Indeed, Moscow’s first act of ethnic engineering, the division of Tatars and Bashkirs into two republics in 1920, was intended to prevent the formation of that kind of Turkic Muslim challenge.  (On that action, its fallout and its current resonance in the Middle Volga, see

            Given the ethnic complexity of the Middle Volga region, Strokin argued that if Moscow is going to adopt a cities-based reorganization of the country, it will more likely  begin it in Siberia and the Far East, rather than taking all the risks that creating a super-region around Kazan would entail.

             But in pointing to Siberia and the Russian Far East as candidates for such formations, the Mari El political scientist implicitly makes reference to the other major portion of the Russian Federation which has a tradition of regionalism that Moscow has fought in the past by carving it up into smaller krays, oblasts and national units.

            Siberian regionalism – or “oblastnichestvo” as it is called in Russian – has a long history, one that has generally been predicated on the idea of autonomy rather than independence. But despite that Moscow – tsarist, Soviet, and post-Soviet – has very much opposed it. (For background, see

            Many assume that because most of the population in Siberia and the Russian Far East is ethnically Russian – or at least so classified by Russian census takers – the region poses no threat to the territorial integrity of the country and think that the aspirations of Siberians are limited to autonomy in any case.

            But in a new comment for the AfterEmpire portal, regionalist Yaroslav Zolotaryov points out that Poland, Ukraine and Belarus provide “a precedent for Slavic states getting independence from the Russian empire.” They did so, however, by fighting for it rather than by seeking ever more autonomy (

                “However,” Zolotaryov continues, “one must not talk as if history is over. In Siberia, which ‘the center’ continues to exploit, more radical movements may arise … Today Moscow brands all Ukrainian patriots as ‘Banderites.’ Perhaps, it will call the future fighters for Siberian independence ‘Potaninites’” in honor of the founder of the oblastnichestvo 150 years ago.