Friday, September 20, 2013

Russia-Sakha Relations : Yeltsin To Putin

Russia - Sakha Relations : Yeltsin To Putin

In this week, i discuss on Russo- Sakha relationship in post-Soviet Russia. Ethnic minorities played a major role in the disintegration of both Tsarist Russia and Soviet Union.As we know, these entities were multi-ethnic though Russians were predominant.The  economic decline and bureaucratic inefficiencies were also played a major role in the destruction of these entities.Or, in other words, it gave ethnic minorities a chance to question the authority of the center.The Russian Federation is also a multi- ethnic state like it's predecessors.So it  also inherited most of these issues.Both Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin are able to protect the territorial integrity of  this multi- ethnic state since the downfall of Soviet Union.But both of them had different approaches. For example Yeltsin always tried to appease the regional elites for avoiding the disintegration of Russian Federation.He had no other options but had to compromise with regional Moguls in exchange of political support which they offered him in Moscow. But Putin follows different path.As an advocate of strong center, Putin tries to centralize the power as much as possible at the expense of regional elites.

Thumann explains post-Soviet political developments through three stages : 1) During the early years of its independence, Russia was almost fall apart but somehow it managed to survive the centrifugal tendencies of minority republics. 2) In the second stage Yeltsin tried to appease the republican elites through various appeasement policies.It was expensive and economically inefficient but it helped federation to maintain its territorial integrity .3) Putin's phase witnessed tough economic measures and further centralization at the expense of republican elites.Putin's measures were economically beneficial but his authoritarian ways may damage the highly sensitive center-periphery relations.

Here, I discuss the case of The Sakha Republic. As big as India in size but half  of the population of Slovenia, the Shaka Republic is the biggest national republic of Russian Federation.It is mixed ethnically with the titular nationality Sakha or Yakut enjoys a slight majority (45%). Russians do have significant number but their number is decreasing rapidly after the soviet disintegration.This republic is also  home for early inhabitants like Even, Evek and Yukagir and more than hundred other nationalities as diverse as Swedes and Chinese.Sakha North is poorer compared to southern parts of  the republic.South has all sorts of natural resources especially diamond.But North went through all negative aspects of Russian colonialism and it severely affected the fragile Arctic environment there.Besides Russian colonialism especially the Soviet rule totally changed the traditional life of the indigenous people.

As mentioned in the earlier blog, the Sakha Republic is blessed with huge deposits of natural resources like diamond, gold, antimony, oil, gas, coal and other kinds of precious metals.This republic produces 25% of world's diamonds.The abundance of natural resources and industrialization invited settlers from central Russia and Ukraine during the Soviet period especially in 1960's and 70's. It changed the population dynamics of the republic.Or in other words Sakha became minority in their own land. Russian immigration also caused the rapid urbanization of this backward region especially the southern side of the republic where all mines were located.By 1989, the half of the population of the republic were Slavs and Sakha were just one third in number. 

The disintegration of Soviet Union caused  the rise of nationalism and separatism among the some sections of Sakha intellectuals.Sakha declared itself as a sovereign state under Russian Federation.The declaration statement also asserted the ownership of republic over its natural resources and right of self-determination of its people.The then Russian president Boris Yeltsin compromised with the aggressive stand of  his eastern associate.During his visit to Yakutsk,the capital of Sakha republic, Yeltsin even made a public statement like whatever share the Yakut people are willing to give Russia voluntarily,they may give.What they would like to keep hold of they shall retain.

Sakha President, Mikhail Nikolayev, former Communist boss of the republic played a major role in this period.As a staunch supporter of Yeltsin in Moscow, he virtually made Sakha his personal fiefdom.As a tactical politician, Nikolayev exchanged his republic's economic independence with his political support to Yeltsin at center.Through that he was able to control the ownership of natural resources of his republic.He even withheld tax to center as a protest. Nikolayev questioned Russia's colonial tendencies at time to time and plays with center's fear towards another territorial collapse.He played his card very well but Nikolayev were not exactly looking for independence but control over the natural resources from the center.Most of the resources were in southern part of the republic where Slavs were dominant.So he played very cautiously. Slowly and steadily he also eliminated the ultra nationalists among Sakha. Yeltsin didn't have much to do but to compromise.

Sakha, like almost all other minority republics, signed the Russian constitution,which limits their sovereign rights, and also agreed on a power-sharing treaty with Moscow that recognized the special status of the individual republics in the federation and endorsed their privilege to control part of their natural resources .This enhanced standing of the ethnic republics in relation to the center grew out of the power struggle in Moscow in the early 1990's, when Yeltsin courted the republics for support against his political rivals in Moscow.But Putin's phase witnessed altogether different center-state relationship.As a staunch Russian nationalist, Putin neglected multi-ethnic character of his state.His projection of Russia as an European power were never welcomed by his regional counterparts.His centralization tendencies further deteriorated the relationship.As a first step Putin reduced the power of  Federal Council by gradually eliminating regional leaders from it. Instead he has founded a State Council with regional governors as members.But these governors didn't have any real power except position. I n this way Putin appointed his own representatives in all ethnic republics as a way to curb the power of the local elites.

The President of Sakha Republic Mikhail Nikholayev welcomed Putin's reforms. Nikolayev's minister to center Alexander Ishkov didn't find any issue with Putin's authoritative move.According to him Putin will face three big challenges at least in Sakha Republic. First of all Putin's representative's seat is in Chabrovsk, it locates 1500 miles from Yakutsk the capital of the Sakha Republic.Second, the dwindling number of Russians in the republic.Due to closure of mines lots of Russians migrated to the central parts of the Russia.It means that Sakha will become absolute majority in their republic and it will definitely create problem for Putin.Third, as per  treaty Sakha can block the supply of its natural resources to center.Moscow won't be in a position to handle this lose.There are signals of Putin making compromise with minority republics.Before Putin,Tsar Alexander and Stalin also tried for centralization at the expense of minorities.But they were not fully successful.Only time will decide the fate of Putin as an unifier.

Sources :

  1. Social Identity and Conflict in the Autonomous Republic of Russia and Ukraine.
  2. Warning of Global Warmimg : Politics,Economics and Ecological Change in Siberia's Far East.
  3. The Endangered Communities : The Politics of  Indigenous People in Siberia.
  4. Evolution of Center-Periphery Relations.                                                                     
  5. Diamonds : A Contested Symbol in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia).                                        
  6.  Azarova, Aitalina Paper for presentation on the conference Political Demography: Ethnic, National and Religious Dimensions, London School of Economics 29-30 September 2006.