Soviet-style repressions and Revitalization
Cultural and civilizational ties among citizens of the eastern republics have been alternately ignored or considered threatening at various levels of government. Practicing divide and rule strategies, Soviet authorities repressed pan-Turkism
and homegrown Eurasianism
without valuing their potential influence in defusing chauvinist types of more narrow nationalism. All three of these crossover ideologies have blossomed in the post-Soviet period with horizontal contacts, fluctuating degrees of official support, attempted cooption and understanding. People are nostalgic for various pasts, differentially interpreted and used in leaders’ rhetoric in various ways. Multiple and situational identities have flourished as many Siberians have become increasingly cosmopolitan. Particularly fascinating have been cross-republic revivals of shamanic and Buddhist activism, enabling all three republics to open themselves to mutual cultural pilgrimage, tourism and international spiritual seeking. The popular movement of shaman Alexander
represents an example of the Putin regime’s return to Soviet-style repression of dissent using punitive psychiatry.The China factor
A controversial aspect of politics and economic dependencies involves the degree of China’s influence in Russia’s eastern territories. While the Chinese presence is significant, it is crucial for analysts to be geographically nuanced, differentiating regions from sub-regions, republics from oblasts, and Siberia from the Far East, two separate mega-zones in official Russian conceptions. China has historical claims
on certain territories north of the Amur River, but is far less interested in occupying all of Siberia in the Western sense. The presence of seasonal Chinese traders and workers in the Sakha Republic hardly makes it a target of territorial expansion. A Power of Siberia pipeline
running to China does not give the Chinese territorial rights, nor does their observer status in the Arctic Council
.Ethnonational fault lines
Further interethnic complexities are built into Russia’s legal definition of “Indigenous people,”
which diverges from international usage. Russian law defines its “Native” (korennye, from ‘rooted’) peoples as only “small-numbered” (under 50,000), while United Nations definitions incorporate larger non-state ethnonational groups with long-recognized homelands, such as the Sakha, Buryat, Tyvans, Khakas and Altaians. While recognition as Indigenous
can be beneficial in the international context, it is less commonly used by peoples with named (titular) republics. A two-tiered system exists within the republics for “small-numbered” peoples, such as the Even, Evenki, Yukaghir, Todja, Akha and Soyot, some of whom complain of dual assimilation pressures. These are compounded by restrictive 2022 registration procedures, and new decrees that mobilize previously exempt Siberian Natives into the war in Ukraine
. Many groups claim victimization
with discourses raging along ethnonational lines. This influences how non-Russian elites in the republics think about their relationships with the federal center.
Russia’s valiant but dispersed opposition and its multinational “matryoshka doll” composition reveal fault lines in Russian society. While wide-ranging protests have been repressed, hopes for cultural, personal and societal dignity have not. Each republic within Russia valorizes different legacies, and has had various relationships with Moscow in the past century. Some are more polarized than others, especially those in the North Caucasus. Russia’s society is more fragile than many analysts realize. Whether Russia eventually will fragment along the lines of its republics, or hold at least partly together in a real federation through negotiation and nested sovereignty depends on its peoples pulling back from dangers of violence that result from mutual polarization. Siberians merit being on the map of international awareness, for their striking multiethnic histories and their strategic significance for Russia’s survival.
As the most enterprising and morally attuned of Russia’s multiethnic intelligentsia and workers abandon the country, recovering intertwined cultural, societal, political, ecological and economic conditions that could heal Putin’s authoritarianism becomes increasingly unrealistic. Russia may spiral out of any single leader’s control.