Decolonisation of Russia 2.0

NEW – September 24, 2022

Mechanisms for the dismemberment of the Russian state have been launched

On September 23, 2022, the so-called “Third Forum of the Free Peoples of Post-Russia” opened in Gdansk. In essence, this is a continuation of the implementation of the concept of “Decolonisation of Russia” (or rather, “Decolonisation 2.0”, since the first “Decolonisation” is the dismemberment of the USSR).

According to current Washington strategists, the way to solve the so-called “Russian problem” lies in the country’s regions and ethnic minorities, and not in the Kremlin itself. US politicians and their satellites do not see our country as a monolithic entity; they are going to establish direct diplomatic and economic channels with existing regional governments, as well as work to strengthen the anti-Kremlin opposition that supports stronger federalism, and support their plans for the development of regional separatist projects.

Part I. Project “Decolonisation of Russia”

The official start of the project “Decolonisation of Russia” was laid on June 23, 2022, when a government body – the US Commission on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) (better known as the Helsinki Commission) held a briefing in Congress entitled “Decolonisation of Russia: a moral and strategic imperative.”

The participants of this event openly called on the United States to provide more support to separatist movements inside Russia and in the diaspora.

They proposed the independence of numerous republics within the Russian Federation.

The event was presented by Congressman Steve Cohen, a Tennessee Democrat who co-chairs the commission.

Cohen argued that the Russians “essentially colonised their own country”, and argued that Russia is “not a strict nation in the sense that we have known it in the past”.

US Congressman Steve Cohen speaks at the Decolonisation of Russia briefing

At the virtual hearing, which was broadcast live on YouTube, the congressman was joined by veteran regime change activists who worked in a number of US government agencies.

The event was moderated by Bakhti Nishanov, Senior Political Adviser to the Commission on Security and Co-operation in Europe.

The most active speaker at the hearing was Casey Michel, a neoconservative activist who has made a career campaigning for regime change against opponents of the US government.

Michel began his professional career with the US Peace Corps on the Russian-Kazakh border, and later benefited from the new Cold War hysteria in Washington.

He is an adjunct fellow at the ironically named Hudson Institute Kleptocracy Initiative, a D.C.-based think tank that is generously funded by the Koch oligarchs, the Walmart Walton family, major corporations like ExxonMobil, and the Pentagon.

In May 2022, Michel published an article in The Atlantic magazine entitled “The Decolonisation of Russia”, which served as an inspiration for a congressional briefing.

Neoconservative activist Casey Michel

“Russia continues to control what is in many ways a traditional European empire, only instead of colonising nations and peoples overseas, it has colonised nations and peoples on land,” Michel told the hearing.

The neoconservative activist lamented that the United States did not use the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 to destroy Russia itself. He complained that Western support for separatist movements in Russia was insufficient.

He insisted that the event was not just a call for the “dismemberment and division” of Russia, but rather was motivated by genuine opposition to colonialism and imperialism.

Joining Michel at the congressional briefing was Erica Marat, a professor at the Pentagon National Defence University’s College of International Security Affairs.

Marat also complained that “The Global South continues to view Russia as an anti-Western, anti-colonial power and denies the dignity of non-Russian people and especially people of colour from former Soviet republics”.

Similar comments were made by fellow panelist Botakoz Kassymbekova, a lecturer at the Swiss University of Basel.

Kassymbekova used the briefing to call on the US government to provide more resources to separatist movements, “supporting the civil initiatives and civil societies of its neighbours and within Russia.”

Another panelist was Fatima Tlisova, a Circassian separatist activist from Russia who received a scholarship from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the infamous CIA front used to finance US regime change operations around the world.

Tlisova also worked with the Jamestown Foundation, a neoconservative D.C. think tank with close ties to the CIA.

At the hearing, Tlisova claimed that her “homeland” of Circassia was “occupied” by Russia. She also talked about “white slavery”.

The last participant in the briefing was Anna Gopko, a former member of the Ukrainian Parliament who previously headed its foreign affairs committee and a significant figure in the 2014 US-sponsored coup in Ukraine, touted as Euromaidan.

Gopko insisted that Washington should consider “how to change not only the regime, but also the imperialist nature of Russian statehood”.

The full concept of “Decolonising Russia” was announced at the Second Forum of Free Peoples of Russia, which met in Prague on July 23 and 24, 2022.

From the text of the final document of the forum:

We, representatives of the indigenous peoples and colonial regions of the Russian Federation, are beginning the process of Complete and Universal Decolonisation of Russia.

. . . We call on all citizens of indigenous peoples and colonial regions to immediately begin active actions for the peaceful decolonisation, liberation, declaration/restoration of sovereignty and independence of their countries.

We call on the peoples and governments of the UN Member States to support and assist us in realising our aspirations in accordance with the UN declarations, and we also appeal to the entire international community for assistance in our efforts to streamline the uncontrolled process of disintegration of a nuclear state.

For the practical implementation of the Declaration on the Decolonization of Russia:

1. We call on national and regional elites to immediately start creating National Transitional Governments/Administrations (on their own land or, if this is not possible, in exile), based on the fact that the current executive authorities represent the interests of the imperial centre, and not indigenous peoples and colonial regions.

2. We call on the regional parliaments to protect the interests of their peoples and confirm the previously adopted declarations on state sovereignty, as well as to immediately start the process of inter-parliamentary consultations on the formation of a mechanism for declaring/restoring the state independence of our indigenous peoples and colonial regions, and launching a mechanism for their peaceful secession from the Russian Federation.

3. We announce the convening in November-December 2022 of an International Conference on Peaceful Decolonisation and Territorial Organisation of the Post-Russian Space with the participation of member states of the UN Security Council, states bordering the Russian Federation, and international organisations. The purpose of this conference is to:

◦ ensure a peaceful, smooth and legitimate process of the decolonisation of Russia;

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◦ start the process of clarifying and approving the demarcation of the state borders of the new republics;

◦ prepare and sign treaties of friendship and cooperation between new states and neighbouring countries;

◦ approve the principles of succession, including the division of property and debts of the Russian Federation.

4. We appeal to UN Member States to provide maximum assistance to National Transitional Governments/Administrations to achieve the goals of decolonisation and peace. And officially recognise the independence and sovereignty of the following states of indigenous peoples and colonial areas: Tatarstan, Ingria (historical region in the north-west of Russia, including the current St. Petersburg region), Bashkortostan, Karelia, Buryatia, Kalmykia, the Baltic Republic (Konigsberg, East Prussia), Komi, Cherkessia, Siberia, the Urals, the Republics of Don, Tyva, Kuban, Dagestan, the Pacific Federation (the territory of Primorsky Krai and the Amur Region), the Moscow Republic, Erzya Mastor (the territory of Mordovia), Sakha, Pomorie, Chuvashia, Chernozem region, Mordovia, Volga region, Khakassia, Udmurtia, Tyumen Ugra, Mari El, Altai, Ingushetia, etc.

5. We call for the preparation of the Constitutions of the Republics that establish their state independence and sovereignty, as well as the main legislative acts aimed at ensuring peace, lustration, political stability, rapid economic growth and development. We encourage intellectuals, social, cultural, economic, political and spiritual leaders of indigenous peoples and regions to take an active part in this process.

6. We call on all representatives of indigenous peoples and colonial regions to join the peaceful and systematic resistance. Possible forms of such resistance are strikes, demonstrations, pickets, acts of sabotage of orders of the imperial centre, refusal to serve in the armed forces of the Russian Federation, etc. The goal of these actions should be the peaceful transfer of power to democratically elected representative bodies of independent states.

7. We call on all members of the military and law enforcement agencies representing indigenous peoples and colonial regions to return immediately to their homeland and ensure a peaceful and democratic transfer of power.

8. We are initiating the formation of national legions (Self-Defence Forces) to protect the sovereignty and rights of our peoples and ensure peace.

9. We are beginning the process of consultations on the establishment of a Joint Transitional Administration as a temporary (no more than 12 months after the current regime is removed from power) collegial and consultative representative body of all the indigenous peoples and regions of the Russian Federation colonised, in order to practically ensure smoothness and the process of decolonisation. Representation of all peoples and regions in this body should be equal (on a parity basis, with one representative from one country/region), and delegation of powers to participate in it is carried out by National Governments/Temporary administrations.

This body will have the following tasks:

Coordination of actions to eliminate the current regime (creation of a single clear action plan, roadmap for the elimination of imperial control, leadership of citizens and regions to facilitate the process of eliminating the Kremlin regime). and on the ground);

• Assistance to national governments/transitional administrations of indigenous peoples and colonial regions in holding democratic elections in accordance with international standards and with the participation of international observers no later than 8 months after the fall of the imperial regime (the election date must be announced no later than 3 months after the fall of the current regime of the state of the Russian Federation).

Assist in organising the transfer of power to democratically elected authorities of indigenous states and colonial regions (especially in those regions where national governments/transitional administrations will not be established) no later than 12 months after the fall of the colonial regime, and no later than 3 months after the announcement of official results of elections recognised by the international community.

maximum assistance to competent international bodies in taking control of all nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction located on indigenous peoples’ lands and in colonial areas, without exception, in order to ensure the absolute denuclearisation of indigenous peoples’ lands and colonial regions.

• Providing a mechanism for the peaceful resolution of territorial disputes, if any.

Among the authors – Signatories: Rajana Dugar-DePonte (Buryatia), Ruslan Gabbasov (Bashkortostan), Rafis Kashapov (Tatarstan), Aleksey Mananikov (Siberia), Deny Teps (Ichkeria), Elena Mikhailova (Velky Novgorod), Yury Moskalenko (Novosibirsk), Gennady Gudkov (Kolomna); from Europe and North America: Janusz Bugajski (USA), Pavel Klimkin (Ukraine), Edward Lucas (Great Britain), Vojacic Pokor, Tamila Tasheva (Ukraine), Andrius Almanis (Lithuania), Oleg Dunda (Ukraine), Paul Massaro (USA), Taras Stetskiv (Ukraine), Mariusz Pilis (Poland), Evgeny Magda (Ukraine), Vadim Prokopiev (Belarus), Pavel Zhovnirenko (Ukraine).

Part II. Separatist sentiments in Russian regions

At the author’s initiative, a group of independent analysts used automated Internet monitoring systems to conduct a comprehensive analysis of separatist sentiments in the regions of Russia.

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The study examined the activities of various national and cultural organisations in the regions that have or may have a separatist bias. Available public opinion polls were analysed to identify nationwide trends in separatism.

Before starting the analysis, a hypothesis was put forward about a departure from ethnic separatism in the regions. But this was only partially confirmed.

Ethnic and, in particular, religious separatism remains the predominant form.

General state of separatist sentiment

The results of the analysis for Russia as a whole showed a rather low severity of the problem of the spread of separatist sentiments in Russia. The number of references to elements of separatist discourse by citizens on social networks does not exceed 50 mentions per 100,000 people of the region’s population for the period from May 1 to August 16, 2022.

Taking into account that a significant part of references to elements of separatist discourse were made in news reports (for example, news about the “Decolonisation of Russia” project), and also often was associated with the activity of bots aimed at sowing separatist ideas on social networks, this indicator generally demonstrates extremely low organic interest of citizens in the topic.

In this regard, the definition of regions that are at risk of exacerbation of separatist tendencies is rather conditional, and it is based not only on separatist activity, but also on other factors, such as religious isolation, ethnic and cultural differences, historical precedents, the presence of active opinion leaders of a separatist nature, a strong regional identity, etc.

Among the regions that are in the conditional risk zone, the following regions can be distinguished: the Republic of Tatarstan, the Republic of Dagestan, the Chechen Republic, and the Ural regions — Sverdlovsk, Chelyabinsk, and Tyumen regions.

Tatarstan

There are a number of organisations that have a separatist orientation, but at the same time meet with active opposition from the regional authorities. These are the organisations:

VTOTs (All-Tatar Community Center). It was liquidated in June 2022 at the initiative of the Prosecutor’s Office of Tatarstan. One of the first separatist Tatar movements in the recent history of Russia, it has been active since the 90s;

Union of Tatar Youth “Azatlyk”. The leaders are very active on social networks, and it seems that they are not located in Russia. Members of the organisation periodically hold political actions in Tatarstan;

Free Idel-Ural. The organisation’s management is based in Kiev, actively manifests itself on social networks and on the YouTube platform, and has its own website. There is no significant public interest in their activities, despite periodic coverage of their activities in opposition and blocked media outlets in the Russian Federation;

Tatar National Independence Party “Ittifak”. It operates in an underground format and does not conduct any special public activity.

In addition, ethnic and, to a lesser extent, religious elements are quite strong in the separatist discourse in Tatarstan.

Due to the presence of significant reserves of natural resources in the region, there is also an economic element in the separatist discourse. However, not as a basis for discourse, but as a justification for the possibility of independent functioning of Tatarstan as an independent state.

In addition, the language issue is a sore point used by the separatists of Tatarstan in their own interests. In the Republic, there is a significant demand for strengthening the importance of the Tatar language, against which scandals related to the actions of federal and local authorities have repeatedly flared up.

Republic of Dagestan

Separatism in the Republic of Dagestan is quite specific. In it, separatist discourse is practically inseparable from radical Islamic discourse and is transmitted directly through it. Due to the extremely active counteraction to religious extremism, both in Dagestan and on the territory of the Russian Federation as a whole, the functioning of organisations of this nature in the Republic is difficult.

The peculiarities of the region suggest that the most significant drivers of such sentiments will be local imams of rural mosques, whose activity cannot be assessed by the methods used in the study. There are also several separatist-extremist opinion leaders who are popular in Dagestan and operate on the Internet.

Chechen Republic

The identification of the Republic of Chechnya as a risk zone is rather controversial due to the extremely active opposition to religious extremism and separatism by the regional authorities and the low saturation of the discourse within Chechnya with relevant elements.

Nevertheless, the region needs to be mentioned in connection with the factor of historical precedent, the factor of cultural and, to some extent, legal isolation, the high independence of the regional authorities, the presence of a significant power resource, as well as the figure of Chechnya in the separatism-related discourse of other regions.

Ural Regions

Separately, the Sverdlovsk Region should be singled out first of all, as a region with an increased risk of developing separatist tendencies. The region is characterised by an economic-territorial subtype of separatism. In the summer of 2022, the separatist discourse was somewhat revived by the conflict between TV presenter Vladimir Solovyov and the governor of the Sverdlovsk region. V. Solovyov criticised Evgeny Kuyvashev for pandering to the separatists in the regional Duma (V. Solovyov did not name names), and also recalled the idea of the Ural Republic, which flourished in the 90s at the suggestion of the current senator from the Sverdlovsk region and former Governor Eduard Rossel.

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Indeed, the ideas of the Ural Republic were quite widespread in the discourse of the 90s, but their content is ambivalent.

E. Rossel himself claims that the idea never carried separatist overtones, but only called for greater economic autonomy. On the other hand, it was perceived by some segments of the population as a call for secession and is still periodically retransmitted in this way.

The idea of direct secession was not widely popular in the Urals even in the 90s, as public opinion polls of that period show. In February 2014, the then Mayor of Ekaterinburg, Evgeny Roizman, proposed separating Ekaterinburg from the Sverdlovsk Region, giving it the status of a federal city. Overall, however, the discourse in the region tends to favour greater economic and fiscal autonomy rather than direct secession.

Kaliningrad Region

In the region, there is almost no separatist sentiment among its residents. However, this region was included in the list of those at risk due to some peculiarities. In the region, there is a strong activity of foreign “players” and organisations supported by them, aimed at sowing separatist sentiments in the region and cultivating ideas of the “Germanisation” of the Kaliningrad region.

Here, the “Baltic Vanguard of Russian Resistance” should be singled out separately (now it is not functioning, the leaders are being prosecuted by law). And also, to some extent, Hanseatic Office LLC (officially functioning as an organisation aimed at maintaining and creating cultural and economic ties with Germany, can be a conductor of ideas for the Germanisation of the region).

In addition, an additional risk factor is the enclave status of the region.

The presence of former separatists in power

The analysis shows that most of the prominent political figures who contributed to the development of separatist movements in the 1990s are either no longer in power or have passed away.

Organisations with a separatist bias

We have identified a number of organisations, movements and communities, including those centred around young people, that have or may have a separatist bias. This is:

Tatarstan – VTOTs, Free Idel-Ural, the Union of Tatar Youth “Azatlyk”, the Party “Ittifak”;

In the Urals and Siberia – the Movement for the “Ural Republic”. The “Sign Up as a Siberian” movement;

Republic of Dagestan;

Kaliningrad Region – “Baltic Vanguard of Russian Resistance”;

The Republic of Karachay-Cherkessia – “Adyhe Khase” organisation;

Bashkortostan – Bashkir people’s Center “Ural”;

The Republic of Kalmykia;

The Komi Republic – “Let’s defend ourselves”.

Youth involvement in separatist discourse

An analysis of the discourse on social networks showed a low level of involvement of young people in it. For most of the regions taken in the analysis, the greatest involvement was shown by representatives of older generations – from 40 to 60 years and older than 60 years. Also, middle-aged people – from 25 to 39 – were active in this cross-section. Citizens under the age of 25 accounted for only a small percentage of those who left messages related to separatism.

The Republic of Dagestan stands apart. More than 50% of those who participated in such a discourse in the Republic of Dagestan were between the ages of 18 and 39, and 7.4% were under the age of 18.

Content of separatist discourse

An element common to separatist discourse, regardless of regional specifics, is the understanding of the impossibility of success of any separatist aspirations in the current conditions. In their discourse, the separatists suggest waiting for socio-economic shocks comparable to the situation in the early 1990s.

Against the background of current events in Ukraine, the separatists expect a weakening of the central government of Russia due to the deterioration of the socio-economic state of the country, growing public discontent and a decrease in the capabilities and resources of law enforcement agencies.

There is also an understanding of the doom of separatist movements in individual regions to failure, so the idea of a consolidated collapse of the whole of Russia and the emergence of mass regional separatism often appears in the discourse. This idea is especially relevant for regions of “potential enclaves”, such as Tatarstan, which, having no borders with other states, will be blocked by other Russian regions if they separate individually.

At the same time, it is important to note the element of discourse that causes some concerns. From time to time, there were indications that with the transfer of security units to participate in the special operation, the influence of the federal government would weaken. This element in the discourse is combined with expectations of a general deterioration in the socio-economic situation and political climate of the country against the background of the special military operation. A certain part of the separatists see this as a “window of opportunity” for activating their own efforts aimed at actualising separatist ideas in the discourse and reviving separatist movements.

It is this “window of opportunity” that the developers of the “Decolonisation of Russia” project are also trying to use.


Vladimir Ovchinsky

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