Ethnic groups in the former USSR

Ethnic groups in the former USSR 

Opinion, Russia

Edited by: A. N.

The divide between those in the Russian Federation who support Putin’s aggression in Ukraine and those who oppose it does not follow ethnic lines. Many Russians oppose the Kremlin leader’s war, and at least some non-Russian officials are backing it, given their dependence on the current regime.

But it would be a profound mistake not to recognize that Putin’s war has exacerbated tensions between Moscow and the non-Russians, many of whom see his increasingly aggressive imperialism abroad as a sign that his imperialism at home, already at a level not seen since Soviet times, may be about to get worse.

Surveys of residents of the Middle Volga and the North Caucasus highlight two trends:

  • ever more Russians in these regions are suggesting that because of Putin’s aggression, they are “ashamed to be Russians,” and
  • ever more non-Russians are viewing themselves as victims of the same imperialism now seen in Ukraine.

Across the non-Russian portions of the Russian Federation, ever more people are protesting against the war; and ever more regional deputies are joining in even if the republic heads are remaining either silent or openly supporting Putin who appointed and can remove them.

In Yamalo-Nenets, for example, a psychologist has created a chat room to support those who are against the war or at least worried about its consequences. In Karelia, an opposition deputy has introduced a resolution calling for an end to the war. And in Udmurtia, the local movement against corruption has refocused its activism to oppose the war.

There and elsewhere in non-Russian parts of the country, activists are calling for “quiet protests,” with people putting anti-war slogans on their clothing or purses rather than engaging in the kind of more open demonstrations that would almost inevitably in the current climate lead to their arrest.

In perhaps the most dramatic and certainly the most indicative sign of non-Russian opposition to the war, Karine Khabirova, the wife of the head of Bashkortostan, posted on social networks her opposition to the war. Her husband has not spoken out, but it is likely he agrees with her at least privately.

And reflecting how worried Moscow is by any such display of disloyalty, Khabirova’s posts were taken down in less than an hour, although on the Internet nothing is ever lost and many have undoubtedly seen her expression of anger against the war in the hours since. Her opposition may even help her husband who is currently the subject of withering attack by the opposition.

Meanwhile, two non-Russian organizations based abroad have adopted more radical positions. The Free Idel-Ural Movement, which is headquartered in Kyiv, has declared that with Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, “the time of being a non-Russian brings advantages has come.”

“Therefore,” it continues, “feel free to say: ‘I’m not Russian. I’m Udmurt / Komi / Mari. I did not approve this aggression and do not participate in it.”

And the Tatar Government in Exile which is based in Europe and the United States, has gone even further. In an appeal to “the peoples of Russia,” it declares that “the empire is collapsing” and that non-Russians now have “a chance for freedom,” one given them by the Ukrainian resistance.

“Raise a revolution in your republics with the goal of seizing power,” it says. “Disarm the FSB, MVD, and the police. Do not be afraid. Moscow does not have a lot of resources which it can send against you. The Ukrainians are bearing the entire weight of your revolutionary struggle on their shoulders.”

According to the Tatar activists abroad, “what is dying is not the Putin regime but Russia! All who have dreamed about freedom must enter the battle! For your freedom and ours.”

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Edited by: A. N.

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