Demanding Russia’s “decolonisation” could embolden European separatist movements
Written by Ahmed Adel, Cairo-based geopolitics and political economy researcher
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a strong message in favour of defending Russia’s sovereignty in response to the announcement of the referendums being held in the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, and the regions of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, to join to the Russian Federation.
“Sovereignty is the guarantee of everyone’s freedom. And in our tradition, a person cannot feel truly free if his people, his homeland, Russia, Motherland are unfree,” Putin declared on September 21 during a concert dedicated to the 1,160th anniversary of the birth of Russia’s statehood. “We won’t yield to blackmail and harassment and will never betray or lose our sovereignty. They won’t see such mistakes on our part anymore!”
Almost immediately the message was taken by Western media as a threat from the Russian president, whom they even accused of having intimidated the international community with the threat of nuclear weapons. This is consistent with the actions Washington has taken in its propaganda against Russia to try and make the international community believe that Ukraine is winning the war.
An example is the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kharkiv, promoted by Western media, analysts and commentators. This propaganda also aims to promote the disintegration of the Russian Federation, being coined as “decolonisation”, just as happened decades ago with the Soviet Union.
Washington is launching the belief that Russia must be “decolonised”, a plan very similar to what they had in the 1990s and 2000s that sought to divide the Russian Federation into many independent republics, whether in the Caucasus or in the Far East. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is Chechnya, where the US denounced Russia’s efforts to maintain unity and NATO member Turkey orchestrated and supported radical Islamist forces.
Part of this narrative, promoted from Washington, seeks to constantly provoke Russia with a strategy based on targeting territories of the Russian Federation that in the past sought to be secessionist.
The US Helsinki Commission shamelessly discussed on June 23 “the need to ‘decolonize’ Russia for it to become a viable stakeholder in European security and stability.” Influential portals, such as The Atlantic, also push for the need to “decolonise Russia”. In an article simply titled “Decolonize Russia”, Casey Michel argued that “The Kremlin will continue ruling over colonial holdings in places including Chechnya, Tatarstan, Siberia, and the Arctic.”
Washington hopes to provoke independence movements despite the fact that minorities in Russia have a well-defined Russian national identity alongside their ethnic identities, even if in the past there were years of difficult communal relations between varying ethnic groups.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said on September 22 that 20,000 Chechen troops have been deployed to Ukraine since February. Writing on Telegram, he said: “The republic of Chechnya over-fulfilled its conscription plan by 254%… even before the announcement of a partial mobilisation.”
Troops from Chechnya have played an important role in Ukraine, one that the Chechens could have dismissed as an inter-Slavic conflict. Rather, their sense of loyalty to the Russian state has seen the region have more troops per capita than perhaps any other part of Russia.
None-the-less, the Kremlin cannot continue waiting for Kiev to come to its senses. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky continues to reiterate his call to the international community to arm Ukraine despite his administration never having respected the agreements signed to pacify the Donbass region. A peaceful agreement could have happened in the last eight years, that’s what the Minsk agreements were for, but what the West is doing is trampling all over the agreements so that pressure could be maintained on Russia.
For this reason, there is a return to the 2014 scenario where referendums have to be reinforced with a military presence because of the war crimes that Kiev’s military will commit against the Russian-speaking population in Donbass.
However, Washington’s pressure to divide Russia may be counterproductive since there are different separatist movements in Europe, many with the ability to call plebiscites. The United Kingdom faces a referendum where Scotland, on October 19 2023, will vote on independence. The Corsican authorities are also in talks with the French government to become autonomous, and Catalonia continues a near century long independence struggle from Spain.
Europe has always been a powder keg in this sense. By Washington promoting separatist causes in Russia, it can certainly embolden other such causes across the European continent.
Regardless, efforts to embolden separatist causes in Russia will humiliatingly fail as ethnic minorities are satisfied with their rights and development under Moscow’s leadership. Nationalist causes are less relevant compared to prosperity and wellbeing, and rather, Washington’s efforts are a desperate attempt to limit Russia’s growing international power and prestige.
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