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Fall Of The Empire? Ethnic Separatism On The Rise In Russia

Far from being a unified state, Russia is full of federal subjects — many of which have spawned separatist movements. Moscow, far from Siberia or the Caucasus and focused on Ukraine, is finding it harder to contain them.

Kalmyks attend the unveiling ceremony of a Buddha statue

Kalmyks attend the unveiling ceremony of a Buddha statue in Kalmykia, Russia

Pavel Lysyansky

They began to show up more and more in 2019: people were displaying symbols of separatism at protests in different regions of Russia. One example that marked this movement were the flags of the Ural People's Republic at protests during the spring of 2019 against the construction of a temple in Yekaterinburg, the industrial city in the Ural mountains 1,100 miles east of Moscow.

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The Russian Federation consists of 85 federal subjects, consisting of republics, krais, oblasts and cities of federal importance (two located on the Crimean peninsula are not internationally recognized). Every federal subject has its own head, a Parliament and Constitutional Court. The system was an attempt made in Soviet times to solve the problem of the country's ethnic and economic diversity by forming national republics.

So, the population of the Russian Federation does not consider a federal center or federation as a core value. For that reason, in some territories people may perceive their separation from Russia as quite possible.

In the Russian regions, traditionally inhabited by Muslim ethnic groups, Islamic radicalism and ethno-national separatism are sometimes mistakenly considered the same. For example, in the Russian Altai in southern Siberia, the idea of creating a common ethnic state of all Turkic peoples is widespread. Along with the Turks, Buryats, Kalmyks, it is also possible to join the Manchu-Tungus who are located near Russia.

Still, the ideology of pan-Islamism is being actively promoted in some of these areas, aiming to unite Muslims around the world into one Islamic state headed by a caliph.

 Emissaries of Wahhabism 

Siberian regional separatism is also actively developing near Russia. It is based on Siberian Russians as a distinct nation suppressed by the federal center and the European part of the Russian Federation.

Separatism is the extreme point of nationalism.

In the Volga republics of Mordovia, Mari El and Udmurtia, there are active preachers of Wahhabism. They seek to convert the titular peoples of these republics to Islam in order to integrate them into the movement of Islamic separatism.

This movement is based on those who are dissatisfied with the policy of the federal center. In particular, the transfer of financial flows to Moscow and subsidies to the republics of the North Caucasus. In the Russian regions of Russia, ideologies about individual nations are actively spreading: Volgars, Urals, Pomors. These movements appeal to the fundamental ethnic identity of people, bringing them closer to Finno-Hungarian nationalism. It should be noted that separatism is the extreme point of nationalism.

In addition to the above directions and currents of separatism in Russia, it is worth considering Wahhabism separately. The emissaries of Wahhabism believe that the Muslims of Russia and the post-Soviet countries live in anti-Islamic states, whose laws are sinful to follow.

Wahhabis are using educational programs to nurture a generation of new spiritual leaders. Currently, Wahhabis are successfully working with the population (especially with young people), and their main goal is to penetrate into the power structures of Russia at the federal and regional levels.

\u200bInternational conference of Sunni scholars in Grozny, Chechnya

International conference of Sunni scholars held in Grozny, Chechnya

Talib Ghaffari/Facebook

Regional elite vs. Moscow

Since the Kremlin launched the large-scale military aggression against Ukraine, socio-economic and political tensions have been growing in Russia, increasing the probability of a revolutionary situation. Russian political and business elites in the regions are not consolidated in solving general national problems because some of them have long been waiting for the possibility of confederalism or separatism processes with the subsequent secession of some territories. However, the main indicator of ethnic and classical separatism in Russia is the weakening of the Federal Center, which is taking place now.

The processes of regional and ethnic separatism within Russia are constantly intensifying.

Social tensions are aggravated by uncontrolled migration. In the large Russian cities, there are entire enclaves of migrants from neighboring countries, which creates the conditions for protests under the "French scenario". According to preliminary data, there are more than 3.5 million migrant workers in Moscow, most of whom are illegal. This number is quite enough to conduct protests. The migrants are mostly from Central Asia and the Middle East, which only intensifies ethno-separatism.

Ethnic separatism manifests in the impossibility of performing the main functions of the country since the regional elite of remote regions Russia will not follow the instructions of the federal center if it is weakened. Such regions include, first of all, the republics of the North Caucasus.

Another indicator of the high level of ethno-separatism in Russia is the presence of ethnocracies that secure access to local resources for the ruling elites in the region. Attempts by the federal center to de-ethnicize power in these regions have led to a surge of nationalism and confrontation with local ethnic clans whose intention is to defend their power and property.

The processes of regional and ethnic separatism within Russia are constantly intensifying. Their real surge can be expected after the mass arrival of "cargo 200" and "cargo 300" (code words used in the Soviet Union and the post-Soviet states referring to the transportation of military fatalities) back to the remote republics of Russia. Similar processes have already taken place during the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Israel-Hamas War: Could A Temporary Ceasefire Deal Become Permanent?

A five-day ceasefire deal in the Gaza war appears imminent. In the past, such provisional truces sometimes turned permanent. But is this time different?

Photo of a man is seen among the rubble in Gaza

A man stands among the rubble of buildings destroyed in Gaza

Elias Kassem


Leaders of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that rules Gaza, say a deal is within reach. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he hopes “for good news soon,” while the government meets to discuss “the issue of the release of hostages.”

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