Crimea Vote Galvanizes Separatists in Russia

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Moscow Times
March 14, 2014

For separatist groups in Dagestan, Tatarstan and other regions of Russia, the Kremlin’s support of a referendum on independence in Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula would seem to provide an opportunity for their own movements, which have long been repressed by Russian authorities.

The Kremlin, evidently, does not agree. President Vladimir Putin has long been a vocal opponent of regional separatist movements in Russia, having risen to power by waging a bloody war against rebels in Chechnya, and last year he signed into law a bill that stipulates prison time for those who make separatist appeals.

Ruling party lawmakers hold a similar position, arguing that the situation in Crimea is fundamentally different from that in the North Caucasus and in multiethnic republics of Russia that have active separatist movements.

But some observers believe that in the long term, the Kremlin will not be able to restrain the activity of separatist movements across Russia if it supports measures like the Crimea referendum.

“Russia must never support any referendums [on independence],” opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny wrote Wednesday on his popular LiveJournal blog. “The economy will become weak and we will not be able to give wagons of money to [Chechen leader Ramzan] Kadyrov anymore. This will happen sooner or later.”

“No one doubts that he will immediately organize a referendum on independence. There are no Russians there anymore, the result is clear,” Navalny warned.

Chechnya and Dagestan are seen as the main centers of separatism in Russia, but there are also separatist movements in regions including Tatarstan, Tuva, Bashkortostan, Sakha, and even regions where the majority of the population is Russian, such as exclave Kaliningrad and the Primorsky region in the Far East.

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