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 Fragmentation of Russia is seen by the Kremlin as a growing threat - New York Times

Russian President Putin instructed his prime minister in early March to prepare a blueprint for a new federal agency that would work toward “consolidating the unity of the multiethnic nation of the Russian Federation.”

Censor.NET informs citing the article in The New York Times by Michael Khodarkovsky, a professor of history at Loyola University Chicago and author of "Bitter Choices: Loyalty and Betrayal in the Russian Conquest of the North Caucasus".

According to Mr. Khodarkovsky, the move passed relatively unnoticed, but it raises provocative questions. Why suddenly create a new arm of government when funding for other departments is being frozen or cut? And why did the choice to lead the agency fall upon Igor Barinov, a member of Parliament and a retired colonel of the Federal Security Service with experience in special operations in Chechnya and counterterrorism?

For Mr. Putin's Kremlin, religious and ethnic diversity remains a troubling security concern. The new federal agency is charged with solving one of the major challenges of the Putin era: how to mold a unified Russia from such a vastly diverse population while Mr. Putin pursues his neo-imperial ambition to recoup large swathes of the old Soviet Union.

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One possible reason for choosing Mr. Barinov is fallout from the assassination of the Russian opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, on Feb. 27. Many people suspect that the Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, widely believed to be behind other high-profile killings, set the hit in motion in another show of loyalty to Mr. Putin. If this is so, he may have gone too far. Mr. Putin, who has counted upon Mr. Kadyrov to keep the lid on his restive region, may now consider him a loose cannon. Mr. Barinov might be the best man to keep him under control.

More likely, however, the new agency was born out of the growing realization that the country is far less unified than the name of Mr. Putin's party, United Russia, suggests. The fragmentation of Russia, with its multiple ethnic, regional and religious identities, is seen by the Kremlin as a growing threat.

Mr. Putin trimmed the autonomy of the non-Russian republics and districts. Censorship and self-censorship came back. Regional histories, which in the 1990s emphasized the brutality of Russian conquest, reverted to the old Soviet canard of "voluntary" submission to Moscow's benign rule.

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But propaganda won't make problems go away. Among the federation's non-Russians, Muslims are the largest group, approximately 17 percent of the total population. They present a formidable challenge to the Kremlin in several ways.

So what is Russia today? The current occupants of the Kremlin have found their own cynical answer: It is a traditional autocracy in democratic garb, a promoter of virulent ethnic nationalism under the guise of restoring Russian dignity, and blatant old-world expansionism couched as a defense against trumped-up external threats.

 
 
 
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