Separatism Doesn’t Threaten Russia But Will If Kremlin Fails to Listen to Regions, Yarulin Says

Russia Regions Map

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, July 30, 2020)

The most important lesson of the Khabarovsk protests is that separatism doesn’t threaten Russia now but could if the central government continues to try to make all the decisions, consolidate all the power and wealth, and ignore the aspirations of Russians in the regions, Ildus Yarulin says.

The director of the Vladivostok Institute of Political Technologies and Communications argues that “when Vladimir Putin came to power, he faced a super-important task: not to allow the country to fall apart into principalities. Such a threat existed,” and Putin dealt with it successfully (regnum.ru/news/polit/3023700.html).

“But today before the president and before all of us stands a yet more important task: to listen to the aspirations of the people in the regions and bring the regions together because strong regions as we know are the basis of a strong Russia,” Yarulin continues. If Putin is willing to listen, that is all possible; if he isn’t, then to the dangers he suppressed earlier could return.

How the Kremlin leader chooses to respond will determine who will emerge as the leaders of regional movements and parties, the political analyst says; and who these people are will determine whether they move toward separatism or become participants in the strengthening of the state.

Discussions about new regional parties have been taking place for some time, despite the legal ban against them, Yarulin points out. And now given the failures of both the systemic and extra-systemic parties at the center, many people are talking about creating replacements for them as well.

One thing about the latter discussions is especially troubling: no one involved in those discussions is talking about regional problems, “even though all the problems are in the regions: poverty is in the regions, and illness, and death, and disintegrating housing, and lack of roads and access, and ‘the black hole’ of municipal services – everything is in the regions.”

If neither the old nor the new parties will talk about these things, then regional parties will emerge, including across the entire Russian Far East; and the longer the parties at the all-Russian level ignore the problems of the regions, the more radical these regional parties are going to become.

“The regions, especially in the Far East, are ever more angry that they do the work and the federal center distributes their earnings.” Some are given more, others less, but the decisions are made behind closed doors at the center. Khabarovsk didn’t invent this issue but the city’s protests have attracted new attention to it.

The center and the regions must function so that each can trust the other, Yarulin argues. If they don’t, “nothing good” is in prospect. Perhaps the country needs a new federative treaty or an elected Federation Council. At least, such things need to be discussed because the current ones are viewed in the regions as meaningless.

In the current situation, various groups are appearing, including in Khabarovsk, in the form of The Voice of the Far Easterner. It may have some influence on the upcoming elections but largely because of the weakness of the other parties. But it will be effective only if the center works with rather than against it.

Will that movement become “a real force”? “Will there appear in the Far Eastern Federal District new movements oriented not at protests but at development?” Positive answers to these questions are needed and needed now. Otherwise, the situation could deteriorate in very threatening ways.

“The protests in Khabarovsk Kray continue,” but “sooner or later these marches will end. But will the protest end? How will it end? And who will head the new movements?” The future of the Far East and of Russia as a whole depend on those answers: Moscow needs to start listening and the regions need to start focusing on becoming strong parts of a strong Russia.

Far Eastern Russia and Environs, with Khabarovsk Pinpointed, adapted from image at cdc.gov