Ukraine must support the national liberation movements of the enslaved peoples of the Russian Federation
The year of Russia's full-scale military invasion of Ukraine is coming to an end. Although the war is still far from over, Russia, according to many Ukrainian and Western analysts, has already lost it, given the dubious gains and colossal losses that already exceed the possible benefits of a hypothetical "victory" in the fantasies of Kremlin ideologues.
Regardless of the results of the current confrontation, according to some people, it will lead to the consolidation of the current regime in Russia, and according to others, to its change. The most radical observers, including officials, believe that the war, in addition to the regime change, will also cause the disintegration of Russia, and this process is inevitable. This is how the next stage of the disintegration of the Russian Empire, which began after the October Revolution of 1917 and continued with the collapse of the USSR (1991), should end.
In conversations about peace, Ukrainian diplomats proceed from the principle of inviolability of borders as of 1991. The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, regularly voices this thesis in his public speeches. Moreover, he emphasizes, as he did in his speech to the US Congress, that the future of Russia is "a matter for the Russians themselves, who can influence it primarily through regime change, not system change."
Instead, the Russian Federation continues a consistent policy aimed at changing the borders of the territory of Ukraine. Thus, at the end of September 2022, after holding pseudo-referendums in the occupied territories, Russia announced the annexation of Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Donetsk, and Luhansk regions. In addition, relevant amendments were made to the constitution of the Russian Federation. Later, Putin called the inclusion of "new territories" into the Russian Federation one of the main achievements of the so-called "special military operation."
In response, Ukraine, taking advantage of the mistakes of Russian diplomacy, recognized the Northern territories of Japan (the Southern Kuril Islands) as occupied by the Russian Federation in early October. In the same month, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine also recognized the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria as temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation.
In addition, in November and December 2022, several draft resolutions were registered in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, according to which it is proposed to recognize the "national" subjects of the Russian Federation — the Republic of Tatarstan and the Republic of Bashkortostan — as independent and sovereign states and to establish diplomatic relations with them. Currently, the documents are at the "committee" stage of consideration. If the people’s deputies nevertheless adopt them, and the president supports them with his decree, it will significantly change the national principles of conducting foreign policy. Ukraine, in response to the aggressive actions of its northeastern neighbor, will take a course of non-recognition of the Russian Federation in its borders as of 1991.
Under the conditions of no alternative, the policy of recognizing the independence of the national regions of the Russian Federation seems quite promising. Since the Russian Federation does not recognize Ukraine as an independent state and declares parts of its sovereign territory as its own, Ukraine may not recognize the sovereignty of the Russian Federation over part of its territories. In this way, enslaved peoples can become free, and this is confirmed by historical facts on the territory of the former Russian Empire.
Thus, in particular during the late USSR, declarations of state sovereignty were adopted not only by the absolute majority of the Union republics, but also by a number of subjects with the status of autonomous republics or autonomous regions within the then Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic based on the Law of the USSR dated April 25, 1990 "On the separation of powers between the Union of the SSR and subjects of the federation." During the events that became known as the parade of sovereignties (1990–1991), typical declarations were adopted by most of the current subjects of the Russian Federation in the status of a republic, such as the aforementioned Republic of Tatarstan and Republic of Bashkortostan. It is also worth taking into account that at the time of the adoption of these documents, the Constitution of the USSR was in force, which formally allowed the republics to leave the Union. In 1991, it was planned to create an "updated" USSR as a "federation of sovereign republics", into which the national autonomies within the RSFSR sought to enter "directly", even the so-called Gorbachev referendum was held. However, it was not possible to implement these plans, because a few months after the August putsch, the Soviet Union finally ceased to exist.
Although formally after the collapse of the USSR and the creation of the Russian Federation, the declarations adopted by the national republics, which are now part of the Russian Federation, have lost their validity, they are historical and legal precedents. It is worth paying attention to them when considering the future of Russia and the liberation of peoples enslaved by Moscow. Moreover, in the future, they formed the basis of the development of local constitutions, the texts of which mentioned the sovereignty of the republics (over time, these references were removed). In addition, these declarations became the basis for signing federal treaties.
The gradual recognition of the independence of the mentioned republics (that is, the right of the peoples of Russia to self-determination) may subsequently stimulate the revival of the liberation movement in Russia and, as a result, its disintegration. For this, Ukraine should promote the creation and operation of governments in exile, which will be formed from representatives of the national liberation movements of the respective republics. Under favorable circumstances, the world community can recognize them as legitimate representatives of their peoples, and they themselves can gain real power on the ground. At the moment, the most famous organization that seeks to represent the interests of the "peoples enslaved by Moscow" is the League of Free Nations. It arose in the summer of 2022 from among political emigrants — representatives of the Bashkir, Buryat, Tatar, Erzyan and other national movements.
The activities of these national liberation movements require attention from Ukraine for a number of reasons. First of all, it is an opportunity for Ukraine to promote its own narratives, to communicate the Ukrainian perspective on historical events and the current political situation. In this sense, the recent recognition by the Erzyan national movement of the Holodomor of 1932–1933 as an act of genocide is a telling example. In addition, the government of partially recognized Ichkeria made a similar decision. Secondly, although currently their representatives do not have real power on the ground, in the future they may return to their homeland and continue state building. Thirdly, these movements can be platforms that in the future can become a resource for the formation of national elites of the peoples enslaved by Russia. Thus, Ukraine and its partners should in various ways support the national liberation movements in Russia, provide them with adequate financial, security (due to possible risks of physical destruction) and institutional support to ensure their activities in exile.
Therefore, the creation of the governments of the national republics of present-day Russia in exile may be the first step towards the recognition of these republics by Ukraine and the establishment of diplomatic relations. Initially, they may exist in the form of a state without a territory, or a deterritorialized state, because they have had experience of statehood in the past. Ukraine can hybridly interact with these entities, and not with the temporarily occupying authorities on the ground, that is, for example, not with the government of the Chechen Republic of Ramzan Kadyrov, but with the government in exile of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, led by Akhmed Zakayev.
The economic basis for the existence of these entities can be the creation of digital platforms, crypto exchanges, through which, for example, services, including financial ones, will be provided to these unrecognized governments that will represent the interests of the temporarily occupied territories of the Russian Federation. The income from their activities will go to the development of the mentioned governments, in particular, to the financing of guerilla movements.
For example, in modern realities, it is possible to use the experience of the Republic of Palau, a small island state in the western part of the Pacific Ocean. In 2022, it became the first country in the world to introduce a digital residency program called the Root Name System and a blockchain-based identity card. By analogy, in order to become a citizen of the newly formed states or to register/run a business, it is not necessary to be "physically" in the "occupied" territory. All necessary virtual infrastructure can be deployed outside the Russian Federation. Such states can also declare themselves free trade zones, with no customs duties and, for example, no restrictions on the gambling business.
Therefore, the possible gradual recognition of the independence of the national republics of the Russian Federation based on historical and legal precedents seems quite promising. It will contribute not only to the internal weakening of the aggressor state, but also to the emergence of new nation-states friendly to Ukraine. In order for the recognition of the independence of the national republics of Russia not to become symbolic, it is necessary to comprehensively support the relevant national movements. Governments in exile can be formed on their basis (following the example of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria), and diplomatic relations can be established with them. This may encourage other UN member states to take similar steps, which will lead to further diplomatic isolation of the Russian Federation on the world stage.
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