- Given Russia’s history with separatist movements during World War I and the ensuing Civil War—which gave birth to the Baltic States, Finland, and the short-lived independent states of Ukraine and Georgia—and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the fear of separatism runs high in Moscow. Chechnya’s declaration of independence and Tatarstan’s decision to pursue diplomatic relations with foreign states in the early 1990s forced the Yeltsin administration to treat the question of regional autonomy with kid gloves.While making it clear that the Kremlin would not tolerate secession from the Russian Federation (even going to the lengths of military invasion to preclude such actions), Boris Yeltsin’s policy of asymmetrical federalism allowed Russia’s ethnic republics to enjoy nearly all aspects of sovereignty. Despite such liberal policies, support for separatism remained high among the titular nationalities of these regions through the next decade (in Komi and Sakha, ethnic Russians are also generally supportive of separatism). The reasons behind such support are varied, and include resentment toward the center on resource-sharing; competition among elites for jobs and political influence; conflict between ethnic Russians and the indigenous populations; religious disputes (particularly related to Islamism); and historical grievances.Chechnya and Tatarstan remain the bastions of such sentiment, but Bashkortostan, Adygeya, and Tuva are also predisposed to separatism. Under Vladimir Putin, centrifugal trends were reversed, particularly through legislative reforms that allowed the president to appoint regional governors. Putin’s successful postconflict management of the second Chechen War dramatically decreased local calls for independence, while sustained economic growth related to rising oil and natural gas prices mitigated separatist sentiment in other parts of the federation. The question of secession still remains very much a part of the fabric of politics in the ethnic republics, but it appears that the federal government has successfully averted another round of territorial losses that many geopoliticians predicted during the 1990s.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.