Anti-Centralism Now Embraced by Both Russian and Non-Russian Radical Oppositions, Sidorov Says

Russia Regions Map

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, August 3, 2020)

Russian nationalists have always been more divided than most analysts have suggested, with some committed imperialists, others devoted to a small Russia, and still others believing that their best course forward is in the elaboration of a civic national identity that would allow them to retain the loyalty of non-Russians within current borders.

But there is yet another kind of Russian nationalism, one that supports elevating the status of predominantly ethnic Russian oblasts and krays to the level of republics, and that kind is increasingly finding common ground with non-Russians committed to the defense of their republics and renewed federalism, Kharun Sidorov says (

That common position is being promoted under the rubric “Self-Determination for the Peoples of Russia” (SONR in its Russian acronym) by political activist Ayrat Dilmukhametov of Bashkortostan, his supporters in Kalmykia and Russian ethno-federalists like the Association of Popular Resistance as well as other groups, the Russian commentator adds.

And Sidorov argues that the protests in Khabarovsk and the support these actions have received across the country show that “anti-centralist” positions are now shared by “all the radical opposition in Russia,” even though some back ethno-federalism (including ethnic Russians) and others want a Russian nation state with minorities.

The idea that ethnic Russians as well as non-Russians must have the right to republics within a federation goes back before the Bolsheviks. Those who carried out the February 1917 revolution supported it, Sidorov says; and their view was enshrined in a declaration by the Constituent Assembly before the Bolsheviks dispersed that body.

During the Russian Civil War, it was promoted by Komuch in Siberia and Boris Savinkov’s Russian Political Committee ( And during World War II, it was backed by the Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia.

It also informed the thinking of many at the time of the coming apart of the Soviet Union and the drafting of the 1993 Russian Constitution, Sidorov says, even though the predominant position of Russians at those times remained largely committed to centralism as a means of holding Russia together.

Today, both Russians and Russians want to create “a New Russia” which recognizes the rights of both Russians and non-Russians to self-determination in opposition to those who want to restore “a single indivisible” pre-February 1917 Russian state that would oppress both the one and the others.

When the Soviet Union came apart, the creators of a new state did not go far enough and did not give Russian oblasts and krays the status of republics. As a result and quite naturally, Russians resented that others were getting more than they, and some in the Kremlin have played on that to win them over to centralist positions. But now that effort is losing ground.

Russian oblasts and krays, like Khabarovsk, want the same status that the non-Russian republics have; and that provides the basis for the emergence of a common agenda across what many had thought was an impassable gulf and to the detriment of the imperial centralizers in Moscow.

The new agenda presupposes that borders will not be changed as history shows that any shift in borders opens the way to conflict and that ethnic minorities in both predominantly Russian and predominantly non-Russian republics will have representation in the governments, either by an upper house in the republic legislatures or some other way.

Achieving this reorganization won’t be easy because it will have to overcome Moscow’s “neo-colonialism, centralism, and drive for cultural unification.” But now there is a chance because at least some ethnic Russians and some non-Russians see that the best path to the future is offered by their coming together rather than being played against one another.

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