The Russian Empire favoured paternalism, the Soviet Union’s internationalism conferred apparent federal status to nationalities, but retained de facto control through party authoritarianism, Yeltsin presided over the break-up of the Union and urged regions to take as much independence as they could swallow, but in what way is Putin’s Russian Federation approaching its nationalities question?
The short answer is that the two approaches are being spliced and a dangerous disregard is being paid to fostering a sense of civic unity within the regions of the Federation.
The system of republics and autonomous regions operating within the Russian Federation is dangerously dictated by ethnicity. The titular nationalities often dominate their ethnically defined regions with little regard for democracy or minority rights.
Take for example the Republic of Adygea in the North Caucasus. Here the titular nationality comprises only 30% of the overall population, but thanks to language restrictions and other examples of ethnic pandering, 80% of local government jobs are held by ethnic Adygeans. Ethnic nationalists resist the majority desire to have the republic incorporated into the adjoining Krasnodor Province. This pattern is repeated elsewhere within the Federation.
The present nationalities policy in Russia is dominated by short-termism and expediency and it seems unlikely that Putin, coming to the end of his presidency, will show any resolution in tackling this overriding issue. The challenge for the incoming President however, will be to establish a civic coherence within the Federation which doesn’t cleave to ethnicity and which eschews Great Russian nationalism. Only then will ethnic tensions ease, will minority rights be established and respected and will the Federation be strengthened against separtist nationlist sentiment.