08.08.2007
Russian Federalism and Evolution of Self-Determination
№3 2007 July/September

Over the past one hundred years, the
problem of self-determination of one or another constituent part of
Russia has overwhelmingly overshadowed the problem of the country’s
self-determination as a whole. To ignore this looming dilemma would
mean putting into jeopardy Russia’s political stability or
successful integration into the global community.

SELF-DETERMINATION UP TO
SECESSION

The history of Russian federalism is
relatively short. Two attempts to hammer out a federal system were
tantamount to emergency landing maneuvers. The first one took place
in 1917-1922 and culminated in a de facto restoration of unitary
rule. The second attempt started in the 1990s and it risks sharing
the fate of the previous attempt, despite the fact that the
effective Constitution proclaims the principle of federalism. Sadly
enough, that principle got there as a fragment of the Soviet
heritage, not as a product of Russia’s new
self-determination.

The Soviet federation once in the past
turned out the only type of state structure that proved capable of
stopping the country’s disintegration and channeling the energies
of the former ethnic provinces into revolution at the same time.
However, the “right to self-determination up to secession” embedded
in that structure and a rather arbitrary selection of the so-called
‘titular nations’ [after which entire constituent republics were
named – Ed.] predestined problems for territorial
integrity.

The two-tier system of Soviet
federalism – the constituent ‘union republics’ and the autonomies
subordinate to them – also contained logical flaws. It was believed
that “historical progress” had driven the 15 titular nations to a
level worthy of statehood, even though they were still inside the
Soviet Union, while several dozen ethnic groups chosen as ‘titular
nationalities’ for the autonomies had not reached it yet. As
expected, the junior ones grew up and loudly claimed their rights
in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Their claims unleashed a ‘parade
of sovereignties’ in Russia that brought into existence what can be
seen as the second edition of federalism.

The Soviet federation had one more
major problem – the divided ethnic self-identification of citizens.
In spite of the broad propaganda of internationalism, the Communist
leadership attached significance to the ethnic identity or even
exclusiveness of titular nations, fleshing these categories out
with formal and juridical notions. Meanwhile, the ‘multi-ethnic
community of the Soviet people’ remained a notional
bubble.

Special studies and attempts to mold a
community of people along the principle of loyalty to the state
without ethnic and/or religious boundaries were launched in the
Soviet Union only fifteen to twenty years before its
disintegration. Their progress was very uneven, as they were
regularly sidetracked in favor of efforts to perfect unitary rule
or, sometimes, to openly Russify the ethnic republics. The
ideologeme of ‘proletarian internationalism’ was commonly
invalidated by the routine practices of Soviet governmental and
public organizations. No one gave serious attention to grassroots
xenophobia, which has grown into a major problem for Russian cities
today. The authorities plucked the measures for regulating
migration out of arsenals of repressive methods that varied from
Stalinist ethnic deportations to a gradual resettlement of hundreds
of thousands of ethnic Russian workers to the Baltic republics. At
the same time, they drafted practically no programs to help the
arriving newcomers adapt to the local conditions.

The multi-ethnic Soviet Union failed to
become a melting pot or a new historic union of Soviet people, and
that is why it was fairly easy for the republics to leave the
Soviet Union in the last decade of the 20th century. The Soviet
Union failed both in Cold War battles and in its attempts to set up
a civic society. When the critical moment came, it turned out to be
a territory with a population lacking any civic feeling. Russia is
facing a similar problem today.

SELF-DETERMINATION WITHOUT
SECESSION

Boris Yeltsin’s opponents could never
forgive him for uttering a phrase that invited constituent
autonomies of the Russian Federation to take as much sovereignty as
they thought appropriate. Many people discerned in it the motto of
the Soviet Union’s disintegration, although in essence the phrase
was meant to save the country.

At the very start of the 1990s, an
acute stand-off broke out between the governments of the Russian
Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) and the Soviet Union.
Both played very tough against each other and the game involved
some risky political methods. The Kremlin made an offer to the
autonomies that would bring their status to a level equal with the
‘union republics’ that they were part of. The goal was to weaken
Yeltsin’s team.

Autonomies inside the RSFSR eagerly
renamed themselves into republics and adopted declarations of state
sovereignty. The most impressionable of them even planned on taking
part in the talks to reshape the Soviet Union that were held at
Novo-Ogaryovo outside Moscow. But the August 1991 attempted coup
thwarted the negotiations.

After the Soviet Union was finally
dismantled in December 1991, the Russian leadership had to sign the
Federation Treaty that fixed new rules for the relationship between
the center and regions. The scope of the latter included a separate
group of about twenty former autonomies. The authors of the treaty
tried to reproduce something that had not been effectuated at the
Novo-Ogaryovo union talks on the scale of the Russian Federation.
The goal was to keep the country’s unity by forming new foundations
for the federation with a clear division of actual powers rather
than fictitious ones. In December 1993, a new federal Constitution
was adopted in a referendum. It also contained the word
‘self-determination,’ although it did not mention a possibility of
‘secession.’

The splitting of the volumes of powers,
which poured down on the country’s regions the powers unseen until
now, had the guarantees inherent in the Constitution, in the
Federative Treaty and in the very essence of the deal formalized by
those legislative acts. It boiled down to an exchange of unity for
the regions’ rights. But as the new federated formation stabilized,
it turned out that the federal center was inclined toward revising
the distribution of powers, while the Constitution and the
Federative Treaty were worded in such a way that did not require an
introduction of amendments – even if a drastic overhaul of the
relationship was in the cards.

It was Russian President Vladimir
Putin’s administration that started taking persistent converging
measures, partly dictated by the very circumstances that surrounded
its rise to power. At the end of the summer of 1999, an armed
conflict broke out on the administrative border between Chechnya,
which had been living under a suspended status after the 1996
Khasavyurt agreements, and Dagestan, whose status fully rested on
provisions of the Constitution and the Federative
Treaty.

The fact that hostilities had broken in
three operational theaters at one time in a constituent territory
that had previously been considered peaceful gave Moscow a big
headache. Putin, who had been appointed Prime Minister by then,
took dramatic steps to keep Dagestan inside the Russian Federation
and then to affirm Chechnya’s status through the use of force.
These steps did not envision a dismantling of the federative
structure, but they gave the new Russian leadership the image of a
‘gatherer of lands’.

Moscow supported that image over the
next seven years correspondingly to its understanding of state
unity – it gradually stripped the constituent territories of the
rights they had won. The institution of presidential envoy in the
newly established seven Federal Districts became a transitional –
in fact, unitarianist – link of governance between the federal
center and the regions, although the envoys had rather limited
powers. Projects for regional enlargement, partly implemented by
now, slashed, albeit moderately, the number of the federal center’s
“counterparties.”

In the early 2000s, the Prosecutor
General’s Office and lawyers for the presidential administration
did a tremendous amount of work analyzing and editing regional
laws. Certainly, any attack on the principles of federalism was out
of the question, but the authorities displayed a clear trend toward
leveling out the asymmetric federative relations, i.e. toward
smoothing out the differences in the status of the republics and
other constituent territories. By and large, this kind of
unification is typical of relations in a unitary state that
consists of administrative units subordinate to the center rather
than of power-wielding subjects.

Several dozen treaties were broken off
now regarding special arrangements for a distribution of power that
Moscow and separate regions had signed in the aftermath of the
common Federative Treaty in 1992. Regional elites used those
documents as wrappings for the sovereignty that Boris Yeltsin had
granted them in the form of budget discounts, preferences in the
development of mineral resources and other special
concessions.

Simultaneously, changes affected the
patterns of forming the Federation Council, the upper house of
Russia’s Federal Assembly. While previously seats there had been
taken by governors and speakers of regional legislatures ex
officio, the new rules required that they should delegate their
representatives, whose appointments should unavoidably be
coordinated with the Kremlin.

Finally, the population of constituent
territories stopped electing governors in 2004. Instead,
gubernatorial candidates were endorsed by legislatures at the
president’s recommendation. This move looked like a response to the
terrorist attack in Beslan and it confirmed once again that the
Russian leadership identified the build-up of national security
with controllability and a smooth adjustment of all elements of
state machinery rather than with the fostering of people’s civic
vigilance.

SELF-DETERMINATION IN LIEU OF
SECESSION

Two of Russia’s republics took avail of
Boris Yeltsin’s invitation to sovereignty and took more of it than
the others. In 1992, Presidents Dzhokhar Dudayev of Chechnya and
Mintimer Shaimiyev of Tatarstan did not sign the Federative Treaty.
It was in these two regions that ethnic movements had the widest
appeal, and the energies of an ethnic explosion remained a dominant
factor in their regional policies.

Both republics abstained from voting on
the 1993 federal Constitution. Their formal inclusion in Russia’s
political and legislative space encountered variegated problems and
ended only in the 2000s. Since Tatarstan and Chechnya followed
different paths, the results they have achieved to date also
differ. Tatarstan lived through “the wars of Constitutions” but
eventually gained the status of a key region in the Volga river
basin, both loyal and prosperous. It is a vital center of moderate
Islam after settling some ethnic and inter-religious conflicts that
smoldered there in the early 1990s.

Chechnya fought two wars with Russia.
It lost a great part of its social and economic infrastructure and
still remains an embarrassment for public opinion both inside and
outside the country. The vast majority of ethnic Russians who used
to live in the Chechen Republic have left it for good.

Nonetheless, it was Chechnya, and not
Tatarstan, that won the race for the title of an exemplary
constituent part of the federation in the past few months. The
Tatar government proposed the signing of a new treaty on a
discrimination of powers, but the federal center rejected the
proposal in a refined Byzantine style: a draft endorsed by the
president and adopted by the State Duma, the lower house of
parliament, was voted down by the pro-presidential majority in the
upper house. Even if the Duma manages to override the veto somehow,
after two years of consultations with Kremlin lawyers Tatarstan
will get a purely formal symbolic agreement.

Chechnya turned down a similar treaty
in the past and recently got a new president. At the same time, the
republic obtained exclusive internal independence. The federal
authorities have already been rebuked for de facto renouncing a
strategic line at consolidating vertical power along with creating
grounds for discontent in a loyal region and giving incentives to a
disloyal one. However, the Kremlin’s decisions have an internal
logic. They vividly attest to the current status and political
meaning of Russia’s state structure, which quite frequently reduces
federalism to an informal relationship between the federal and
regional elites as regards economic resources.

TATAR SELF-DETERMINATION

Tatarstan refused to sign the
Federative Treaty in 1992. Almost simultaneously with that, it held
an internal referendum that reaffirmed the republic’s declaration
of independence it gained in 1990. The question in the referendum
was, “Do you agree that the Republic of Tatarstan is a sovereign
state and an international legal entity that is building its
relations with the Russian Federation and other republics and
countries on the basis of equitable treaties?” The regional
authorities explained on many occasions they had no plans
whatsoever to drive the situation to the verge of secession, but
one way or another, the referendum set the scene for a
‘constitutional war’ between Moscow and the government in
Kazan.

The only document that formally linked
Russia and Tatarstan over a period of nine years was an agreement
on the division of spheres of competence and mutual delegation of
powers between agencies of state power of the Russian Federation
and agencies of state power of the Republic of Tatarstan, which
Mintimer Shaimiyev and Boris Yeltsin signed in February 1994. The
document reflected provisions of Russia’s Constitution related to
the federal structure, thus making up for the blank spots that had
appeared after Tatarstan had abstained from the referendum on the
Constitution. Its status had a whole range of specific features,
like impressive budgetary and tax privileges, preferences in
natural resource production, powers in settling privatization
policy issues, and even guarantees against interference by the
federal Armed Forces in the republic’s political life. All of these
were fixed in a series of intergovernmental agreements.

The tax privileges and rejection of
landslide privatization practices enabled the Tatar authorities to
cushion the aftershocks of the social crisis that swept Russia in
the early 1990s. However, the metered-out privatization eventually
brought a sizable part of resources into the hands of the
irremovable local elite.

The republic’s government did a lot to
overcome social tensions, emphasizing the equality and communion of
citizens, irrespective of their ethnic origin or religious
affiliation. The mighty wave of the ethno-nationalist movement of
the early 1990s was thus cushioned and the republic came to view
itself as a component part of Russia.

Tatarstan’s 1992 Constitution was
amended and supplemented in 2000-2002 in compliance with the
federal law. Its new version included the notion of ‘the Russian
Federation’ and a phrase about “an unbreakable historic unity” of
Tatarstan and Russia. Article 1 said relations between the federal
center and the republic were determined by the two Constitutions
and the treaty on the division of powers, still in effect at the
moment.

In 2003, the federal center denounced
the treaty along with forty or so similar documents. The draft of a
new treaty, which many believe contains signs of the ‘parade of
sovereignties,’ can be described as a centripetal one. The single
feature it inherited from the previous treaty makes reference to
Chapter 3 of the Federal Constitution that stipulates division of
the spheres and aspects of competence.

The new treaty empowers the republic’s
leaders to make agreements with the Russian government on any
issues reflecting the historical, economic and ecological
specificity of Tatarstan. In theory, such agreements may revive a
system of budgetary privileges and some special regulations for
mineral resource development, but only with the authorization of
the federal cabinet of ministers and approval by the State Duma.
Any activity on the part of Tatarstan in the field of foreign
policy should also require consent from appropriate federal
agencies, although the draft singles out the republic’s right to
give assistance to ethnic Tatar communities outside
Tatarstan.

The authors of the draft hope that its
endorsement will provide an opportunity to fill it with real
content over time. By doing so, the parties that endorse it will
get more reliable guarantees for their interests than the de facto
existing unofficial protocol of relationship between the federal
and local Tatar elites gives both of them. There is hope that the
treaty will at least partly prop up the status of the republican
elite in the run-up to an inescapable change of top players both in
Moscow and Kazan. However, the final text retained only symbolic
elements of this status and the upper house’s veto cast doubts over
the sincerity of the Kremlin’s plans to impart legal force to the
draft. It cannot be ruled out that the whole story was kicked off
merely to display courtesy toward President Shaimiyev in a way that
perfectly fits the above-said informal protocol.

People in Tatarstan do not see any
reasons for Shaimiyev’s early resignation yet, as his powers were
extended for another five years quite recently. Shaimiyev has
ensured stability and ethnic/religious concord in his republic. He
maintains good working relations with Putin and is one of the
pylons of the United Russia party. Also, the federal quarters have
the 2007 and 2008 elections ahead of them – a context in which a
replacement of regional leaderships does not look
appropriate.

Still, observers have begun to name
possible successors to Shaimiyev and the lists compiled by Moscow
experts are apparently much longer than the lists compiled by local
experts. The replacement of the important leaders in Kazan is most
likely unavoidable and Shaimiyev’s advanced age is not the only
cause for it. There is an incipient conflict rooted in the sphere
of access to Tatarstan’s economic resources, now under control of
the republic’s elite. Tatarstan occupies an important place in
Russia in terms of crude oil production. Its monthly output
compares to Chechnya, although the quality of its oil is much
lower.

The practice existing now is such that
the problems of resource redistribution are solved much more easily
with the aid of personnel reshuffles than through the signing of
public contracts. It looks like officials in Chechnya have realized
the fact quite properly.

CHECHEN SELF-DETERMINATION

In 1990, Chechen-Ingushetia ceased to
exist as an autonomous republic of the RSFSR and tried to jump onto
the departing train of the Novo-Ogaryovo talks. As the
Chechen-Ingush legislature supported the organizers of the abortive
coup in August 1991, Boris Yeltsin’s team bet on the leaders of the
Chechen nationalist movement in response. As early as November
1991, Moscow made an attempt to deploy more troops to Chechnya so
as to cut short the mass outrages committed there. The
self-proclaimed Ichkeria (Chechnya) adopted its own sovereign
constitution the next year and divorced itself from Ingushetia that
undersigned the federative treaty. Federal troops were pulled out
of the Chechen capital of Grozny and other places of deployment.
Ichkeria did not take part in the 1993 federal referendum on the
new Constitution. A sizable part of the republic’s territory was
controlled by armed Chechen opposition units that drew support from
some quarters in the federal government. The first Chechen war that
began in December 1994 was a result of Moscow’s attempt to
demonstrate its unwillingness to tolerate separatism.

Yet the separatists seized Grozny in
the summer of 1996, after which agreements on a ceasefire and the
so-called ‘suspended status’ were signed in Khasavyurt. These
documents indicated that Chechnya’s status inside/or outside Russia
was to be determined in 2001 at the latest. Russian troops, police
and government officials left the republic for the second time in
the decade.

Aslan Maskhadov, who became Chechen
president after the death of Dzhokhar Dudayev, now had to face a
government consisting almost exclusively of field commanders who
believed they had won a war of liberation against the empire.
Maskhadov had to keep equilibrium on the brink of a civil war, but
he could not prevent the militants’ invasion of Dagestan in 1999.
By 2001, when the problem of Chechnya’s status should have been
raised again under Khasavyurt terms, he had already been a
president in the underground for two years.

Moscow decided to discard the services
of the old Chechen-Ingush elite this time, however, and started
looking for allies among the “moderate separatists” and opponents
of fundamentalist Islam. It finally bet on Ichkeria’s former mufti
Akhmat Kadyrov, who was unexpectedly appointed as the interim
civilian administrator in 2000. The Chechen Constitution, adopted
in a referendum in March 2003, finally attached the republic to the
Russian Federation. Kadyrov was elected Chechen president that same
year.

These developments unfolded in parallel
with wide-scale amnesties, as Russia’s recent adversaries
surrendered to Kadyrov personally on guarantees that no
prosecutions would follow. That was how a kind of private guard,
formally added to the tables of organization of federal enforcement
agencies, took shape. One must admit, however, that it really
brought out hundreds of people from the forest who had fired on
federal posts and troops in the not so distant past and had been
the engine of subversive activity in the North Caucasus in the
first half of the 1990s.

In 2004, Kadyrov was assassinated in
Grozny and was replaced by Chechnya’s former Interior Minister Alu
Alkhanov, who had fought against the separatists. The old
Chechen-Ingush elite and part of the Russian leadership pinned
certain hopes on him, but he never received all-round
support.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the thirty-year-old son
of Akhmat Kadyrov who became president in April 2007, is often
accused of “systemic separatism,” which means a type of situation
where Chechnya officially remains part of Russia, but actually
lives of its own free will. Critics especially point out the
strength of the forces of law and order in the republic, which
total about 15,000 men – almost the same figure as the strength of
federal armed units deployed in Chechnya (about 22,000 troops at
the moment). Chechen forces mostly consist of former militants,
whose competence in the field of law and maintaining order is quite
questionable.

Yet the authorities allowed the
presence of this private guard as a replacement for Russian regular
units, thus lifting from the latter responsibility before Russian
and Chechen families. The “guardians” fulfill their task
successfully.

Moreover, Ramzan Kadyrov has managed to
convince some sections of the ethnic Chechen business elite to
invest money in the republic’s postwar reconstruction. This
investment stands on a par with federal subsidies. The young
leader’s crude authoritative methods pushed the system of executive
power into operation. It also looks like he has found a way to lead
the economic reconstruction process out of a corruption deadlock.
The only thing Ramzan Kadyrov does not control is the legal
production of high-grade oil that totals about 2.2 million tons a
year. In contrast to neighboring Ingushetia, where the government
controls the oil industry, albeit a modest output, or to Tatarstan,
where the local elite is extremely active in the oil business,
Chechnya only has formal control over a 49-percent stake in the
company Grozneftegaz. The controlling stake in it belongs to
Rosneft, which reports to the federal center. Ramzan Kadyrov, who
rejected a draft treaty that placed the problem of mineral resource
development in the central position, is now looking for alternative
ways to “restore justice.”

And yet Moscow is pleased with the
current situation. In essence, Chechnya offers an ideal model of a
relationship between the federal center and a constituent territory
where the ashes of conflict are still smoldering. It has been tied
together with its population and a strong local leader, who depends
personally on the Russian president, but who has virtually
unlimited powers in his own republic. The price of this
relationship is the ceding of control over oil resources to a
government company. This is a kind of condition of a contract,
since any attempt on the part of Ramzan Kadyrov to gain control
over oil wells in Chechnya will have an immediate effect on his
career.

It is noteworthy, however, that Kadyrov
and the people around him, who are mainly made up of former
militants, seem to be more committed to the idea of unity of the
federation than many politicians in Moscow. That is why
apprehensions that he may “escape back to the forest” one day seem
groundless. Unity is more than a slogan chanted by former militants
at previous marches. It guarantees a status to the new elite. But
sooner or later, the availability of a loyal prince, who receives
powers from one hand while the other hand strips him of his means
for subsistence, may stop being a sufficient factor. Since the
current Chechen elite are not going to secede from Russia, what is
left is to try and change Russia’s rules of the game. If the
attempt succeeds, the role of the locomotive in writing a new
edition of Russian federalism will go to Chechnya, not to Tatarstan
with its courteous treaties.

STATE-FORMING
SELF-DETERMINATION

The pattern of informal regulation of
the relationship between the federal center and constituent
territories that has been adopted in Russia now is reminiscent of a
decaying ancient Rome that did not feel squeamish about handing
over border provinces to barbarian federates.

However, this pattern does not work
everywhere. Elites in many Russian regions simply do not have any
attractive resources to exchange for guarantees of their status.
One such case is the North Caucasian region of Karachai-Cherkessia,
a depressed republic where an absurd local standoff is continuing
for the fourth consecutive year. It paralyzes any possible
progress, regularly provokes unrest and drags on unresolved, as the
federal center does not interfere in it. The central authorities
ignore the situation persistently, although it is developing near
the state border and in the face of a looming threat of Islamic
fundamentalism.

Second, the pattern implies a closed
system of interrelations between elites, as the elimination of
gubernatorial elections has fully ruled out any feedback from the
people. Many regional leaders who relied on popular support about
ten years ago have lost a big share of their authority now and they
prefer using good relations with the center as a guarantee to their
status. Chechnya remains an exception to the rule, as the new elite
there still does not have a long “credit history” of relations with
Moscow.

In the meantime, mutual alienation
between the people and the authorities strips the center of its
consolidating role. The center (or regional elites at their level)
seeks to keep up the informal balance of interests and obstructs
any attempts to change it. The government knows exactly who should
not do certain things and what things, but it never explains what
things people can do.

Recent developments prove that this
alienation has also affected ethnic Russians who form the majority
of population in Russia today. History proves that ethnic Russians
continue to be the most loyal social segment and their protest
capability, if it ever shows up, is never fuelled by ethnic
sentiments. The reason for this consistency, which did not dwindle
even during the “ethnicity boom” of the early 1990s, lies in the
fact that the Russians have traditionally regarded the state as the
most efficient and most reliable public organization for them. But
now the veil of silence has been pierced, as ethnic Russians are
adding themselves to the list of those who are discontent with the
existing rules of the game.

A criminal incident in the northwest
town of Kondopoga in early autumn 2006 exploded into unrest and
rampage. It was not the ethnic problem as such that triggered it,
but, rather, mistrust in law enforcement agencies, which proved
unable to guarantee security to an individual or to punish the
guilty. A wave of disgust turned into a sporadic and crippling
attempt by the ethnic Russian population to organize in order to
defend their rights and interests. Kondopoga is not the only
instance, as the problem of migrants’ conduct and their contacts
with the indigenous population stands out noticeably and requires
consistent decision-making. However, the authorities prefer to
respond to it only by stepping up tactical measures of police
impact.

Meanwhile, the list of “Russian
questions,” which the government leaves unanswered, is not confined
to the number of foreigners working at open-air food markets. It is
much longer and includes, among other things, the much-spoken-of
demographic statistics and the disastrous position of refugees from
neighboring countries and “blazing” regions of Russia.

Kondopoga also exposed the way in which
the population may rise to such questions. It put some fear into
the authorities, but their reaction did not exceed the limits of
political technologies – experts beating about the Kremlin are
working hard to snatch the electorate from marginal radical
nationalistic parties through imitating a broad appeal to the
interests of the ethnic majority. For this purpose, the United
Russia party launched the blatantly political Russian Project
television program that emphasizes the “Russian civilization”
aggregating all of the country’s ethnic diversity.

The contents of that project are still
too vague. It is unclear if the expected results can justify the
risks inherent in achieving them. At any rate, it is not the first
time that the authorities have appealed to ethnic feelings and
reminded Russians of their “status as the country’s backbone.” The
Stalinist leadership acted in the same way during World War II when
it declared the Russians to be “nation number one among equals” in
the Soviet federation. But even though the share of ethnic Russians
in today’s Russia has increased compared to the former Soviet
Union, this technique looks anachronistic. Just a cursory glance at
demographic and migration statistics is enough to understand that
the country is losing its Russocentric status. In this situation, a
real, not elitist, federalism offers many more opportunities than
any unitary system.

Federalism never played the role of a
counterpoint to unity, since Russia’s multi-ethnic nation has
always been the source of state power. This postulation is true for
any constituent republic. Unlike union republics in the Soviet
Union, they cannot be considered ‘ethnic,’ although many
politicians still look at them this way out of inertia. The
function of a state founder cannot belong to any separate ethnic
group in a multi-ethnic society. This applies even to Chechnya and
Ingushetia, which have become mono-ethnic territories due to the
conflicts of the 1990s.

Russia’s extreme nationalists harbor an
idea of creating a separate republic on Russian territory where the
Russians would be a titular nation. This is a retarded
manifestation of the “self-determination up to secession”
principle. The tiniest verbal flaw by the masterminds of the
Russian Project programs can set off a large-format replication of
that principle and bring into existence one more “ethnic apartment”
[the term used in the early 1990s to describe a tendency toward
isolationism among former Soviet republics – Ed.]. This will
intensify ethnic estrangement, stimulate governmental isolationism,
and lead to the country’s territorial disintegration over the long
term.

The development of this very
pessimistic scenario can only be prevented by removing ethnic and
religious barriers inside the community of all Russian citizens.
The situation is not altogether unpromising. Opinion polls indicate
that the word ‘Rossiyanin’ [a person identifying himself with
Russia as a country rather than with Russian ethnicity; used
emphatically at the beginning of the 19th century, but introduced
into broad everyday use during Boris Yeltsin’s presidency – Ed.] is
not associated with the unpopular President Yeltsin anymore. This
means that the country called the Russian Federation is gradually
winning recognition among its own citizens. The latter fact has a
much greater importance than the artificial climate of
interrelations inside elites, however strong their illusions might
be about their exclusive right to shape political
reality.