An article in a Russian online military journal reports that some Kazan Tatar nationalists and Islamists are calling for the launch of a Euromaidan-style protest movement inside the Russian Federation. The article is a transparent effort to discredit the Ukrainian version by linking it to nationalism and Islamism and to call for the imposition of tighter security at home. Moreover, it reflects the fears many in Moscow have that the nationalism of non-Russians inside the Russian Federation could link up through such a step and thereby threaten the continued existence of the state.
In the latest issue of Voyennoye Obozreniye, Aleksandr Samsonov, a regular commentator for that publication, says that it is a mistake to dismiss these appeals of what he describes as “marginal” groups in Tatarstan. As the destruction of the Soviet Union showed, he points out, such organizations can play a far larger role than “the passive majority” on whom the Kremlin once again assumes it can rely. Indeed, he says it appears that such marginal groups are among the very best ways to destabilize countries as recent events in Syria show (topwar.ru/39455-segodnya-ukraina-a-zavtra-rossiya-tatarskie-etnoseparatisty-i-islamisty-prizyvayut-k-rossiyskomu-evromaydanu.html).
Only by conducting “prophylactic” operations against such groups in a timely fashion, Samsonov continues, can the state save itself and the lives of “hundreds of thousands and [even] millions” of people who live in “a great power.” Consequently, he strongly implies, the time for Moscow to act is now.
At least 20 Tatar nationalists from the Middle Volga and Siberia have gone to Kyiv to take part in the Maidan demonstrations. They declare their support not only for that Ukrainian protest but have issued a call for the organization of a similar kind of demonstration inside the Russian Federation. Nafis Kashapov, a leader of the Tatar Bosqurd group, specifically called on all the peoples of the Volga, the Urals and the Caucasus “to act as the Ukrainians are doing today.” He said that the slogan of such a pan–Russian Federation movement should be “self-organization, self-defense and mutual assistance.” And he added that “a democratic European Ukraine” would be not only “a mortal threat” to the regime of Vladimir Putin but open the way for the establishment of independent non-Russian states on the territory of what is now the Russian Federation. Other Kazan Tatars, even if they have not gone as far as Kashapov, Samsonov says, support Euromaidan in Ukraine and would like to see one organized in their homeland (topwar.ru/39455-segodnya-ukraina-a-zavtra-rossiya-tatarskie-etnoseparatisty-i-islamisty-prizyvayut-k-rossiyskomu-evromaydanu.html).
A major reason for the interest of the Kazan Tatar nationalists in Ukraine has been the support the Crimean Tatars have given to the Maidan movement and the support that community has received from the West as a result. According to Samsonov, the Kazan Tatar nationalists have concluded that they can benefit in the same way and will be able to lead the next wave in the destruction of the “Russian ‘prison house of nations’” and restore the Kazan khanate including what they call “Eastern Tatarstan”—Tyumen oblast. And they are confident, he continues, that they will be able to draw on the support of nationalists and Islamists in or from nearby Central Asia.
Samsonov says that Russians should be under no illusions about the threat they face from the chaos that Ukraine is rapidly sinking into. He argues that what is going on threatens to return Europe to the situation of the 1930s, with the “rebirth” of Russophobic, fascist and neo-Nazi ideology” in Ukraine and its import into the Russian Federation by Kazan Tatar nationalists. And he suggests that the situation has been made even worse by the rise of Islamism.
Joseph Stalin, the military commentator points out, was prepared and able to repulse these threats, but it is not clear that Russia could do so currently—or that Moscow even recognizes that “the union of liberals, national separatists, and Islamists is a terrible threat,” one that could lead to the spilling of “rivers of blood” in Russia. Russian society needs to be mobilized against this threat, he says. The values of Russian civilization need to be reaffirmed. And this “fifth column” must be “physically” eliminated so that Russia can “withstand the new wave of the world crisis.”
Samsonov’s language is certainly extreme, but it highlights the ways in which Euromaidan in Ukraine and especially calls by Tatars to launch a similar effort in Russia touch the deepest fears of Russian nationalists within Vladimir Putin’s regime. First, these nationalists clearly fear that a Euromaidan-style movement could emerge in Russia. Second, they worry that the Kazan Tatars will once again serve as the chief importers and disseminators of these ideas not only among non-Russian groups but among ethnic-Russian ones as well. And third, they are afraid that just as the outer empire collapsed in 1991, the inner empire of the Russian Federation is now very much at risk. Such fears are likely to drive policy; but policies based on them are not any more likely to work than they did a generation ago.