Marjorie Mandelstam BalzerFaculty Fellow, Georgetown University
Contradictory data invites contrasting interpretations of republic dynamics with the center. A Sakha anti-war lawyer was denounced, and protesters in republics have been arrested daily. Tatarstan
ceded aspects of its hard-won relative sovereignty, while arson
has increased against military targets even in Bashkortostan. Secessionist talk has accelerated in the republics of Sakha, Tyva, and Buryatia, as well as among their burgeoning diasporas
. But many fear separatist discourse is extremist because it invites repression and reactionary Russian nationalist solidarity. Non-Russian residents abroad often feel like hostages trying to protect their loved ones within Russia.
The Sakha Republic, given its resource wealth and vast size
, is a lynchpin for leverage with Moscow, and crucial to discussions of non-Russian polarization. As President Putin digs into entrenched aggression in Ukraine, Sakha is a key to Russia’s war economy. Many there persist in identifying with their republic rather than Russia, and resent the neocolonial plunder of minerals.
Particularly embittering is that citizens in the republics are disproportionately mobilized, perceived as expendable. Non-Russian soldiers are often impoverished, rural, and subject to ethno-racial prejudices. Racialized images of non-Russians have increased; Siberians are said to be more savage
than Chechens, capable of atrocities such as those which occurred at Bucha. Racism is evident in Donetsk militias’ brutalization of Tyvan draftees
Anger about shrinking degrees of sovereignty and free speech began before Putin’s war. Putin may have hoped for a diversionary victory that could unite Russia’s diverse multiethnic peoples against a manufactured outside enemy, staving off domestic political, economic, and ecological discontent. Yet instability has increased, masked with performative patriotism. Siberian peoples thrust onto the frontlines of floods
and forest fires
now feel they are on the frontlines in Ukraine. Alienating non-Russians by killing their sons and curtailing negotiated federalism can backfire.