Russia ’s Recognition of Georgian Areas Raises Hopes of Its Own Separatists
r.amirejibi-mullen at qmul.ac.uk
Wed Sep 10 16:46:11 UTC 2008
Although Russia is celebrating the independence of Abkhazia and South
Ossetia, it still has its own problems in the region as its Muslim
republics are drifting toward a partisan war.
Quoting Harold Schiffman <hfsclpp at gmail.com>:
> September 10, 2008
> Russia's Recognition of Georgian Areas Raises Hopes of Its Own Separatists
> By ELLEN BARRY
> MOSCOW — Tatarstan is a long way from South Ossetia. While South
> Ossetia is a poor border region of Georgia battered by war, Tatarstan
> is an economic powerhouse in the heart of Russia, boasting both oil
> reserves and the political stability that is catnip to investors. But
> the two places have one thing in common: Since the collapse of the
> Soviet Union, both have given rise to separatist movements. And when
> President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia formally recognized the
> breakaway areas of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent nations
> two weeks ago, activists in Kazan, the Tatar capital, took notice.
> An association of nationalist groups, the All-Tatar Civic Center,
> swiftly published an appeal that "for the first time in recent
> history, Russia has recognized the state independence of its own
> citizens" and expressed the devout wish that Tatarstan would be next.
> The declaration was far-fetched, its authors knew: One of Vladimir V.
> Putin's signal achievements as Mr. Medvedev's predecessor was to
> suppress separatism. The Tatar movement was at its lowest ebb in 20
> years. But Moscow's decision to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia
> made Tatarstan's cause seem, as Rashit Akhmetov put it, "not
> hopeless." Mr. Akhmetov, editor in chief of Zvezda Povolzhya, an
> opposition newspaper in Kazan, said, "Russia has lost the moral right
> not to recognize us."
> Mr. Medvedev's decision to formally recognize the two disputed areas
> in Georgia — an option long debated in Moscow's foreign policy circles
> — has had far-reaching consequences. Most immediately, it has deepened
> the rift between Russia and its erstwhile negotiating partners in the
> West. But some also see Moscow departing from its longstanding
> insistence on territorial integrity, leaving an opening for ethnic
> groups within its borders to demand autonomy or independence.
> "In the long term, they could have signed their own death warrant,"
> said Lawrence Scott Sheets, the Caucasus program director for the
> International Crisis Group, an independent organization that tries to
> prevent and resolve global conflicts. "It's an abstraction now, but 20
> years down the road, it won't be such an abstraction."
> Moscow's position is that South Ossetia and Abkhazia were extreme
> situations, in which decisions were driven by the threat to the lives
> of its citizens. Russian troops poured across the border early in
> August, after Georgian forces attacked civilian areas in the city of
> Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, with rocket and artillery
> fire. The attack made it "completely impossible" to conceive of South
> Ossetia returning to Georgian control, said Dmitri S. Peskov, a
> spokesman for Mr. Putin, now Russia's prime minister.
> Mr. Peskov said Russia stood firmly behind the principle of
> territorial integrity and saw no major separatist movements within its
> borders. "We do have some separatist movements, some extremist
> elements, especially in the northern Caucasus, but they are very
> minor," he said. "These are very fragmented and very small groups." He
> added that the circumstances of South Ossetia and Abkhazia belonged in
> a "totally different category."
> The picture looked very different before Mr. Putin took office. In the
> 1990s, President Boris N. Yeltsin urged regional leaders to "take as
> much sovereignty as you can swallow." Movements toward self-rule were
> taking hold in some of Russia's most valuable territory: in Tatarstan,
> home not only to an oil industry but also to a major truck factory and
> an aircraft plant; in Bashkiria, a major source of natural gas; in
> Komi, a northern province that produces coal.
> All this came to a halt in Chechnya, an oil-rich patch of land in the
> north Caucasus. Chechnya was the only region to declare independence
> outright. In 1994, Russia sent troops into Chechnya, and two years of
> fighting left tens of thousands dead. In 1999, amid a crescendo of
> violence throughout the north Caucasus, Mr. Putin, then the prime
> minister, oversaw a second war that obliterated the Chechen rebel
> The message from Moscow — empowered and newly rich with petrodollars —
> was clear. "Russia has shown the inhuman price it will pay to preserve
> its territorial integrity," said Sergei A. Karaganov, a political
> scientist who leads the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy. "The
> fighting in Chechnya was not just against the Chechen rebels, it was
> against movements all around." In fact, the threat of separatism has
> largely faded from the Russian landscape, and Mr. Putin has granted
> enough freedom to quiet internal opposition in many of Russia's
> trouble spots. Even in the north Caucasus, one of Russia's most
> volatile regions, the government now helps Muslims with visas and
> airfare to go on the pilgrimage to Mecca, the hajj. At the same time,
> Mr. Putin greatly strengthened his executive power, abolishing the
> direct election of governors in 2004. Handpicked bosses improved local
> economies and clamped down harshly on opposition groups.
> Tatarstan was a case in point. Tatars still commemorate the day in
> 1552 when Kazan fell to Ivan the Terrible, absorbing their country
> into Holy Russia. When Mr. Yeltsin encouraged regions to assume
> sovereignty, Tatarstan complied with gusto, adopting its own taxes and
> license plates. Gleaming new mosques competed with Kazan's onion
> domes, and ethnic Tatars, who made up 48 percent of the population to
> the Russians' 43 percent, opened their own schools. The Tatar
> Parliament declared that local conscripts could not fight outside the
> Volga region.
> When Mr. Putin eliminated regional elections, the Tatar president,
> Mintimer Shaimiyev, protested vociferously, calling the plan a "forced
> and painful measure." But in the years that followed, Mr. Akhmetov,
> the editor of the opposition newspaper in Kazan, saw prospects for
> autonomy drop to a new low. "We understood that our president could be
> removed at any time, within 24 hours," Mr. Akhmetov said. But Mr.
> Medvedev's decision to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia, he said,
> "created a precedent, kind of a guideline" for gaining independence.
> Moscow is confident that it wields strict control over politics in the
> outlying regions, he said, but that could change in 10 or 20 years.
> "The seeds of self-destruction are built into the authoritarian
> system," Mr. Akhmetov said. "It's Moscow's mistake." A similar
> stirring came out of Bashkortostan, a major petrochemical center where
> ethnic Bashkirs make up about 30 percent of the population. A small
> organization called Kuk Bure, which has pushed for the Bashkir
> language to be required in public schools, issued a manifesto accusing
> Moscow of "double standards" for championing ethnic groups like the
> Abkhaz and Ossetians while ignoring their platform.
> "The time has come to ask each federal official — and they have
> multiplied by the thousands in Bashkortostan in recent years — 'What
> are you doing for the Bashkir people?' " said the statement, which was
> posted on the group's Web site. Timur Mukhtarov, a lawyer and one of
> the movement's co-founders, said the group's mission stopped far short
> of independence. Though some may discuss that notion in private, laws
> against extremism have made it dangerous to espouse publicly. At 31,
> he feels some nostalgia for the Yeltsin years, a time of "more chaos,
> but less fear."
> The Russian stand for self-determination in Georgia may not change
> Moscow's attitude toward Bashkortostan, he said, "but at least it
> gives us something to discuss." Russia's act could also stir movements
> in the northwest Caucasus, where a number of groups called for
> autonomy or separation in the early 1990s, said Charles King, a
> professor of international affairs and government at Georgetown
> University. Those calls had gone quiet since Mr. Putin took power.
> But few people have watched events in Abkhazia more closely than their
> ethnic kin, the Circassians. Many Circassians still live in Russia, in
> the republics of Kabardino-Balkariya, Karachayevo-Cherkesiya and
> Adygeya; the vast majority live outside Russia yet look back at the
> Caucasus as their homeland. "They're ecstatic," said Professor King,
> author of "The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus." "Their
> cousins have gotten independence. They see this as something quite
> big, that could have real implications for Russia."
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