Moscow prepares for liquidation of national republics and subsequent unrest

Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) held Indestructible Brotherhood – 2021 exercises in Tatarstan, Russian Federation.

Idel-Ural separatists

In Kazan, a rally was dispersed, refugees were rescued, an administration building was freed and terrorists were killed. All this happened within the framework of the military exercises of the CSTO states titled Indestructible Brotherhood – 2021. The Turkish news agency Anadolu reported about the exercise. A large-scale event which involved five helicopters, dozens of armored vehicles and 1,800 soldiers took place at the training ground of the Kazan Tank School.

The legend of the exercises is based on real events – the experience of hostilities in Syria, Nagorno-Karabakh and even in Belarus, but adapted to the Idel-Ural region. Thus, according to the legend, one of the republics of Idel-Ural experiences a political crisis, complicated by an ethnic standoff: part of society supports the current government, the other sides with the opposition, which is divided into moderate and radical wings.

The situation escalates into an armed conflict. While the humanitarian mission is dealing with refugees and the evacuation of victims, the Russian military police and the internal troops of Belarus disperses a rally around the peacekeepers’ checkpoint. “During the suppression of the rally, the instigators and activists of the riots were identified,” reports the military spokesman, noting that the defenders of the Lukashenka regime had already practiced these skills during street protests in Minsk.

Непорушне братерство – 2021Landing of troops from helicopters into the separatists camp. Photo by: Anton Reichshtat, Kazan Reporter

The culmination of the special operation to suppress the separatist rebellion was the “storming of the administration building seized by terrorists”. For this the village was viced: military men from Russia, Armenia and Tajikistan advanced from the right, Belarusians, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz from the left. Engineer special operation forces and aviation were deployed to seize the administration building. The commandos disembarked by cables from a helicopter, in the best traditions of action films. To enhance the effect, even drones were used in the exercises. After all, they are the talk of the town after the use of Turkish drones in the Azerbaijani-Armenian and Russian-Ukrainian conflicts. “To increase the psychological impact on the armed gang, propaganda leaflets are dropped using the MAVIC UAV. At the same time, the drones of the militants themselves were successfully disabled using the new Harpoon-3 anti-drone rifle. These exercises were generally distinguished by an abundance of military gadgets,” the Russian newspaper Kazan Reporter wrote.

Klishas-Krasheninnikov bill

The legend of the drills is being actively discussed in the Tatar and Bashkir telegram channels. The reason for a highly emotional response among Russian Muslim Turkic people is not only strange wordings in the official media regarding the Indestructible Brotherhood – 2021, but also the political background against which the military and security agencies practiced the skills of suppressing popular unrest in Idel-Ural.

Непорушне братерство – 2021The assault on the positions of the rebels. Photo by: Anton Reichshtat, Kazan Reporter

The exercises were held from November 8 to 12, and at the end of October senators Andrei Klishas and Pavel Krasheninnikov submitted a draft federal law on public power to the State Duma of the Russian Federation to replace the law FZ-184, On general organizing principles of legislative and executive power. The document significantly curtails the powers of the regions and expands the influence of the federal center; in some areas it introduces direct control from Moscow; it “resets to zero” the terms in office of the leaders of federal regions, obliges the leaders of the regions to be called “heads” and establishes a ban of the term “president”. The latter norm was spelled out specifically for Tatarstan, which remains the only federal region preserving the institution of the presidency. The bill caused lively discussions among the indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation, but only Tatarstan, Sakha-Yakutia and the Nenets Okrug dared to publicly declare their disagreement with its provisions.

Read more: Anton Drobovych: on historical unity in the prison of nations

Two Turkic republics lead the resistance: Tatarstan and Sakha-Yakutia. The parliament of Tatarstan voted unanimously against  the bill, and 11 out of 15 MPs from Tatarstan did not support it in the State Duma. Although the closest neighbor of Tatarstan, the Republic of Bashkortostan, did not dare to make such a demarche, Bashkir politicians were sharply criticized by social activists. Moreover, the Bashkir nationalists, who are in constant confrontation with the Tatar national movement, publicly supported the leadership of Tatarstan and shamed the Bashkir politicians, calling them “opportunistic mankurts”.

Clashes between Russian security forces and activists of the Bashkir national movement at Shikhan Kushtau in August 2020 ended with the ban of the largest Bashkir organization Bashkort, numerous trials and sentences. However, the organization of the Bashkirs still worries Moscow. Photo by: Vadim Braidov, TASS.

On November 9, the Klishas-Krasheninnikov bill was passed by the Duma after the first reading. After its adoption in the second and third readings, the new law on “presidency” will gain effect on July 1, 2022, and then, until January 1, 2023, the State Council of Tatarstan must remove any mention of the “President of the Republic of Tatarstan” from all local laws, starting with the Constitution of the Republic of Tatarstan. If they fail to comply a court could rule the use of forbidden words in breach of federal legislation. The President of the Russian Federation can then issue a warning and in three months dissolve the parliament of Tatarstan. The members of the current Tatarstan parliament are clearly not prepared for such a turn and will try to defer the moment of the  “backdown before Moscow” onto their successors – the deputies of the 7th parliament who will be sworn in in 2024. It is likely that the parliament of Tatarstan will file an appeal to the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation in order to delay the implementation of the norms of the Klishas-Krasheninnikov law.

The next step is the elimination of the national republics

The curtailment of federalism and increased pressure on national movements within the Russian Federation leave no doubt that Russia’s transition to a unitary state structure is not far off. Not only activists of national movements speak about this openly , but also local politicians. On October 25, 2021, Rkail Zaydullin, a member of the State Council (the official name of the parliament of the Republic of Tatarstan) from United Russia, known in the republic for his sympathy towards the Tatar national movement, said that the Klishas-Krasheninnikov bill is “a step towards the elimination of the national republics.”

Rkail Zaydullin allows himself to say in parliament the things other deputies of Tatarstan are afraid to say even in the canteen of the State Council. “The destruction of the national foundations of the republic is underway,” – said Rkail Zaydullin speaking in the parliament of the Republic of Tatarstan in 2019. Photo by: Andrey Danilov,

However, the idea of transforming the Russian Federation into a Russian national state runs into a number of open challenges, the main one being the demography. The fact is that the trickiest republics from the point of view of the federal center (with stable dissenter sentiment) demonstrate a rapid growth in the share of indigenous people in the population mix of the republics and a decrease in the number of ethnic Russians. This fully applies not only to the republics of the North Caucasus, but also to Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Sakha-Yakutia, and Tyva. Even encouraging the massive movement of the workforce (young working-age population of these republics) outside of their own ethnic territories does not break this trend. These difficulties force Moscow to press on with the implementation of the state policy of the Russian Federation – the assimilation of non-Russians and the formation of the Russian nation not only with common political attitudes, but also with a common national identity. The key obstacle getting in the way of this ambitious plan is the federal structure and the presence of national republics acting as political and institutional protectors against assimilation.

Multiple scenarios

How will Moscow act in relation to the national republics? There is no consensus among political scientists and ethnic conflict scholars. There are two likely scenarios: a) soft; b) aggressive.

In the “soft” scenario, the federal center will consistently curtail the powers of the national republics and strip them of their real sovereignty, turning them into ordinary regions with their own flags and anthems. The implementation of this scenario takes more time, but it carries fewer risks of inciting violent resistance on the part of national elites and the public.

The “aggressive” scenario could provide a quick and decisive solution to the problem of the “Lenin’s legacy” (federalism), but the consequences are incalculable. It is obvious that the CSTO exercises ironically titled Indestructible Brotherhood – 2021 is a study in handling of possible events within the  “plan B” (“aggressive”) scenario.

Read more: CSTO’s Strategic Command and Staff Training in the South Caucasus (Document)

Thus, the Russian Federation is not only studying possible situation scenarios in the controlled territories, but is also preparing for the transition from a federal to a unitary state system. The weakness of the EU’s foreign policy, as well as lack of a coordinated position and resolve for concerted action towards Russia only encourage Moscow to go for “plan B.”

Russian-Turkish relations have also eased from the phase of acute confrontation, which could lead to a restrained reaction from Ankara even in the event of simultaneous liquidation of all Turkic republics of the Russian Federation.

Azerbaijan has its own security challenges (including the presence of “Russian peacekeepers” on Azerbaijani territories), which will deter Baku from untoward rhetoric.

Read more: Russia deploys 15th Brigade in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

Kazakhstan, as a member of the CSTO, at least in the foreseeable future, will remain a loyal ally of Moscow. However, in Kazakhstan, the national mix of the population is also rapidly changing, accentuating the risks associated with the intensification of unofficial Kazakh-Bashkir and Kazakh-Tatar contacts. For the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan is like a sand glass, where the Russian minority is like falling sand crystals symbolizing Russia’s dwindling influence and significance for Kazakhstan’s politics which has been diminishing every recent decade. The future of Russian-Kazakh relations, and therefore guarantees of Kazakhstan’s non-interference in the affairs of the Idel-Ural region, will largely depend on the military and political situation around China in the next 2-3 decades.

The CSTO forces have successfully eliminated the threat of separatist snowmen. Photo by: Anton Reichshtat, Kazan Reporter

Under the current government, Ukraine is most likely to take a reserved wait-and-see attitude and refrain from any political steps and statements, as Kyiv lacks even basic Russian studies capability, let alone forecasting capability for the developments in Russia and relevant operational planning for different scenarios. Ukraine will not be ready for any situation that would unfold in the Russian Federation, and the leadership of the Foreign Ministry, the Foreign Intelligence Service and the National Security and Defense Council will say in their official statements that they are “closely monitoring the situation.” However, at a critical moment, Moscow will certainly not only use its own agents in Ukraine, but also take advantage of contacts with Beijing involving influential lobbyists in the executive authorities of the PRC to paralyze any steps of Ukraine that could undermine the Russian Federation during its period of turbulence.

As for the United States, their phobias associated with the strengthening of the PRC in the event of the disintegration of the Russian Federation will also prevent them from acting as allies of separatist movements in Russian territories. Within this paradigm, Moscow continues to aggressively silence the voice not only of Russian Turks, but also of all Russian Muslims, as soon as they rise in defense of the population of East Turkestan . It is important for the Kremlin to prevent the popularization of the idea that the new states that will emerge from the corpse of the Russian Federation will pursue openly anti-Chinese policies and, thus having a chance to win the favor of international players like the United States, Canada, Britain, Japan and Taiwan.

Unlike the Kremlin and the Russians, the Turkic CSTO member states are increasingly worried about the threat from Beijing. Anti-Chinese sentiments are growing among Kazakhs and Kyrgyz. Photo by:  Vyacheslav Oseledko, Radio Liberty – anti-Chinese rally in Bishkek in 2019.

In fact, neither Tatars, nor Bashkirs, nor other numerous nations within the Russian Federation should count on external support or even encouragement. The time for the liquidation of the national republics is rather favorable. It is likely that the window of opportunity will remain open for Moscow for years to come. Under these circumstances, the Kremlin has correctly identified the main threats: they do not come from outside, but from within. Consequently, provocations, and, if necessary, guided rioting in the “shaky regions” is the best strategy for eliminating political threats. Military exercises in Tatarstan were needed to train the forces for such scenarios.

This publication was specially prepared for the website of InformNapalm volunteer intelligence community by Pavlo Podobed   the analyst of Prometheus Security Environment Research Center.

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Translated by Artem Velichko. Distribution and reprint with reference to the source is welcome! (Creative Commons — Attribution 4.0 International — CC BY 4.0)
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Moscow prepares for liquidation of national republics and subsequent unrest