Russia is a multi-ethnic country with a long tradition. Does resentment against partial mobilization threaten to tear this empire apart? No, says Russia expert Sarah Pagung.
Dissatisfaction with Vladimir Putin’s regime is growing in Russia. The partial mobilization of 300,000 reservists he ordered on September 21 for his war of aggression against Ukraine could prove to be a big mistake. His policy is now affecting the Russians in the west of the country, who, according to military expert Carlo Masala, have to provide a large part of these 300,000 reservists. The war against Ukraine was thus “taken to the ethnic Russians,” he told Maybritt Illner on September 22.
This development, says Masala, is remarkable, because before that the soldiers for Putin’s war came primarily from ethnic minority areas. The Russia expert Sarah Pagung also confirms this numerical discrepancy when asked by BuzzFeed News Germany from IPPEN.MEDIA . The Russian soldiers deployed in Ukraine have so far been “recruited primarily in poorer regions populated by ethnic minorities, while the urban centers are less affected.”
People in Dagestan and other republics are fighting back
Now, however, there is resistance to recruitment in these regions as well. Violent protests broke out in the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan a few days after partial mobilization was announced. A particularly large number of men are drafted into the Ukraine war from Dagestan, which is predominantly Muslim. According to a count by the BBC, at least 301 Dagestanis have fallen in Ukraine so far, as the Tagesschau reports. That’s ten times the number killed in Moscow, which has a population five times larger.
“But they were contract soldiers who fought for money,” the Frankfurter Rundschau (FR) quoted an ethnologist from a neighboring republic as saying. “Now masses of people who don’t want to go to war are being conscripted, which is causing much more unrest.” So the recruiting pressure on the ethnic minorities is increasing massively.
Student from Dagestan: “The mobilization roused our suppressed indignation”
All over the North Caucasus, men try to evade conscription. “I know villages from which more than a hundred young men went into the mountains to hide,” says the ethnologist from Dagestan’s neighboring republic of Adygea, who was quoted by the FR . The Austrian Standard reports on students being recruited against their will, despite assurances that students would not be affected by the recruitment.
“The war in Ukraine reflects what has been going on in the North Caucasus for centuries,” the Standard quotes a young student from Dagestan as saying. “We’ve always felt like we’ve been colonized by an ethnic group that thinks it’s superior. Now they are using us as cannon fodder in their war and this mobilization situation has stirred our suppressed indignation.”
Similar developments can also be observed in other republics such as Buryatia and Chechnya. Some now speak of “ethnic cleansing” among the minorities. Police officers would use warning shots against demonstrators. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi uses this fear and appeals to those affected: “There is no way out. flees. Or go into Ukrainian captivity at the first opportunity.”
Russia expert Sarah Pagung: “Russia is stable as a multi-ethnic state”
Does this flaring trouble spot have the potential to become an ethnic conflagration that could usher in a disintegration of the Russian Federation? Has Vladimir Putin possibly gone too far and is he risking the end of Russia as we know it, which he actually wants to make into a great power?
We asked Sarah Pagung from the German Council on Foreign Relations for her assessment. She is not very pessimistic about the future of the multi-ethnic Russian state and sees “no serious movements or political forces that would intend secession.” This also applies to the regions of ethnic minorities, such as the Caucasus republics. She emphasizes: “As a multi-ethnic country, Russia is stable.”
According to the expert, protests in Dagestan do not threaten the central Russian state
The social dominance of ethnic Russians, i.e. the Russian language and culture, continues to shape the entire country and is “guaranteed by a strong central state controlled by Moscow.” The integration of regional elites in the supra-regional and national leadership ensures that that it stays that way.
Apart from that, one should not overestimate the importance of these constituent republics. Dagestan, which is after all the most populous of the Russian Caucasus republics, does not have much political weight in Russia. The protesters are also not well networked with the elites and this network is the decisive factor.
Only when the protests in the urban centers concentrate on other regions with a high recruitment rate and the local and regional elite support them can things get “exciting”, she says to BuzzFeed News Germany. Under the current circumstances, “the potential for country-wide political consequences is rather low.”