Vladimir Putin has made clear his ambition to reintegrate Ukraine into a Russian Empire. Russia expanded from the Ukraine-Moscow-Novgorod area across Asia over a period of centuries. By 1721, it was at its maximum extent, including colonies in North America. Like other empires, it indulged in various forms of genocide as it incorporated peoples of many languages and living conditions.
The Soviet Union grew out of the Russian Empire and continued its imperial characteristics, but its rhetoric denied those characteristics. It was the friend of oppressed people everywhere, and the members of the Union were happy to be part of it, so went the official line.
Some of the fifteen republics of the Soviet Union had been independent countries before they were swallowed up. As republics, they had legislatures and executives, so they had governments more or less ready to go when the Soviet Union broke up. With the republics shorn off, Russia remains an empire, but the groups within it are not so easily broken out of the whole.
Nonetheless, actions toward recognition or independence are growing in many parts of Russia. This is a source of concern for Putin, who remembers all too well the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Enter Volodymyr Zelenskyy. As in the military campaign, he is targeting sensitive areas outside the line of conflict. Zelenskyy has called for Abkhazia, Transniestria, and the Kuril Islands to be “deoccupied.”
The Tatarstan government in exile has sent a letter to Zelensky and the deputies of Ukraine’s parliament asking them to recognize the independence of the Republic of Tatarstan and the government of Tatarstan in exile. In response the Ukrainian Parliament has registered a draft law to recognize Tatarstan. Members are considering recognizing Kalmykia and Karelia. Likewise, Bashkirs and Cossacks have asked Ukraine for support.
For now, this is trolling. The independence movements are small and unready to govern. But it is one more way to get under Putin’s skin.
Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money