Secession in Kaliningrad and Vladivostok?
The indispensable Paul Goble reports that the residents of Kaliningrad, Russia are thinking thoughts of secession these days.
Kaliningrad presents a really fascinating paradox. Compared to most regions of Russia, the residents of Kalingrad are rich. But compared to their neighbors Poland and Lithuania (the Kaliningrad region is not contiguous to Russia), they are dirt poor, as are the vast majority of all Russians. And Kaliningraders don’t compare themselves to their remote and slovenly Russian brothers, but to their neighbors, so they’re hopping mad that the Kremlin has bungled their governance so badly and they are taking to the streets to make their displeasure very plain indeed.
According to Vladimir Pribylovsky, president of the Panorama Information and Research Center: “It is perfectly obvious why: the governor is bad and the Kremlin runs our affairs badly as well. The Kaliningraders want to live just like the Poles do.”
And, because of their proximity to the West and their isolation from Russia, it turns out that Kaliningraders are willing to stand up to the Putin regime in brazen acts of defiance that have rocked the Kremlin to its core.
According to Pribylovsky, the far-Eastern city of Vladivostok is similarly situated to Kaliningrad because of its isolation from the Kremlin, and this he says explains what Vladivostok, too, has been a hotbed of opposition activity. He predicts that the two regions will make common cause and that we can expect to see a whole new round of even more vigorous protest activity before 2010 is out.
As far as Governor Georgy Boos is concerned, Pribylovsky suggested that he is neither especially bad nor especially good. Instead, his administration is about average, including in terms of corruption, and that if he were in charge of any oblast “which was not located next to Europe, he would be coping with his responsibility in a completely calm way.” Unfortunately for him, Pribylovsky continues, Kaliningrad is not one of those, but the problems Boos and Moscow are having now do not mean that he is going to be removed. He is Putin’s man and Putin as long as he has the power is not going to sack him, especially in the face of public pressure.
Putin may represent, then, a stubbornly clamped-on lid atop a boiling pot. Grigori Pasko points out how he is using the KGB to crack down on the Kaliningrad opposition leaders just as in Soviet times. Holding the pressure on rather than releasing it, Putin may be setting up conditions for a massive social explosion the force of which could drive Kaliningrad into the waiting arms of Europe, and Vladivostok into the embrace of China.
It’s yet one more example of how the narrow-minded, thuglike policies of Putin have led Russia to the brink of a terrifying abyss.