LinkedIn tracking pixel

Window on Eurasia: Sverdlovsk Governor Calls for Abolishing Non-Russian Republics

Date: 5/2/2005

Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel’ argues that all non-Russian republics within the Russian Federation should be abolished in order to ensure that all citizens of that country will be treated equally and that the country itself will avoid the fate of the Soviet Union.

Speaking to a conference in Yekaterinburg last week on „State Nationality Policy: Problems and Perspectives,” Rossel’ said that in his view, the Russian Federation should consist exclusively of units based on the territorial principle rather than as now on both that principle and the ethnic one.

In his remarks which were reported extensively in Moscow’s „Vremya novostei” last Thursday, Rossel’ argued that there were two reasons for taking that step.  On the one hand, it would reinforce the common identity of the citizens of that country. And on the other, it would help Russia to avoid a repetition of „the disintegration of the USSR.”

Indeed, he said, the adoption of the territorial principle in place of the nationality principle would allow the Russian Federation to avoid inter-ethnic conflicts and to ensure that citizens of that country will be treated in exactly the same way regardless of their ethnic heritage.

Rossel’ added that he had urged just such a step in 1993 when he represented Sverdlovsk oblast in the working group which prepared the current Russian Federation constitution.  But however that may be, Rossel’s own views have in fact evolved over the years.

More than a decade ago, he was one of the leaders of the creation of one of the largest and most important regional political associations, and in that capacity, he cooperated closely with the leaders of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan whose republics his current program would cause to be dismantled.

And only two years ago when Moscow began talking about reducing the number of federal subjcts by combining existing ones, Rossel’ limited his public proposals to one that would affect his own region: At that time, he called for the unification of Sverdlovsk, Chelyabinsk and Kurgan oblasts.

What prompted him to go public with this broader and more radical proposal? One of his advisors, who spoke with „Vremya novostei” on condition of anonymity, said that Rossel’s statement was intended to curry favor with the Kremlin which has not yet said whether it will retain him as head of the Sverdlovsk oblast.

To the extent that is the case, Rossel’s words might have more weight than might otherwise be the case.  If he is indeed reflecting current Kremlin thinking, then perhaps Moscow plans to move against all non-Russian units – including the largest and most important ones such as Tatarstan and Bashkortostan — much sooner than many had htought. 

And that in turn could set the stage for potentially serious conflicts in the near future. Indeed, a symbolically important one occurred last week when law enforcement officials demanded that Tatarstan either take down the republic’s flag or put up a Russian Federation flag over all government agencies there (

Many Russian officials are very sensitive to that possibility, and one who attended the same meeting where Rossel’ presented his ideas suggested that Moscow would move cautiously in this sphere.  Yevgeniy Trofimov, who heads the Duma Nationalities Committee, said that there was no guarantee his group would approve such changes in the near term.

And he added in words that both Rossel’ and the Kremlin may find chastening:: „a change in the princple of the federative arrangement of the country will occur when society will be prepared for such a development of events,” a condition that he implied has not yet been met.

Given those realities, Rossel’s words may have been nothing but a trial balloon. But given his own political skills a