There are so many sub-divisions in the country who are not Russian in their language and ethnicity, Tuva, Dagestan, Chechnya etc. When states like the Baltics, Ukraine, and Central Asia were gaining their independence, why did they also not leave?

  • 1
    Iirc Chechnya repeatedly and unsuccessfully left Russia. Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 4:02
  • 1
    @SamuelRussell But why did Russia send troops to Chechnya and not Lithuania or Kazakhstan?
    – Rohit
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 4:04
  • 14
    Note that the Soviet Union was constitutionally a federation of 15 "sovereign" Soviet Socialist Republics, each with the right to secede. The entities you named, like Tuva, Dagestan or Chechnya, were not one of these. Instead, they were constituent parts of the Russian SFSR.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 4:20
  • 2
    @Semaphore would suggest writing that as an answer.
    – Allure
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 6:38
  • @MarkC.Wallace They are regions with largely autonomous governments in the federation, many of them 'Republics', there autonomy granted as a recognition of their distinctness as a culture and ethnicity; the concept of titular nations. I think it is not a stretch to consider a federal subject a potential state.
    – Rohit
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 13:52

2 Answers 2

  1. Russian Federation initially proposed very liberal conditions to the national Republics

When Boris Yeltsin came into power he made several steps to render himself as a big proponent of local autonomy. In some cases Federal Government even signed Declarations with local governments. The idea was to renew this documents periodically but when Putin came into power this initiatives (moribund up to that time) were all gradually cancelled out or at least toned down.

Here's what Yeltsin told about Bashkiria for instance:

Мы говорим народу Башкирии, Верховному Совету: возьмите ту долю власти, которую сами можете проглотить. И мы согласимся с этой волей, Верховный Совет России не будет ни в коем случае препятствовать. Если вы решите: недра, богатство, земля — это собственность Башкирии, значит, так оно и будет»

My amateur translation:

We are telling to the people of Bashkiria and to the Supreme Council- take as much power as you can grasp. We'll agree with this, the Supreme Council won't by no means discourage you. If you'll decide that the territory, minerals and all the wealth it the property of Bashkiria, so let it be so.

In may be centuries nobody spoke to national republics in such a friendly manner and that contributes to the lack of separatism to some extent.

  1. Noticeable amount of population with Russian or dual (Russian plus local ethnicity) self-identification

Historically there was a huge difference between the level of autonomy of Soviet Republics and that of any national republics in RSFSR. Soviet republics enjoyed certain level of autonomy (to that extent to what we can talk about autonomy in a undemocratic, governed by a single party country with a planned economy, of course). Historically most of them belonged either to the sphere of influence of Russian Empire or constituted its autonomous parts.

This was not the case with RSFSR national republics though. Historically almost all of them were integrated earlier and/or in a more aggressive fashion. Among other things that lead to the fact that in the majority of that republics there was huge Russian population and even native population tended to speak Russian better than their native language.

For instance, roughly a half of population in Khakassia are ethnically Khakas, only a quarter of Adygea population are Adygs and so on and so on.

  1. Lack of interest from local political elite

In a lot of cases local political elite just weighed all pros and contras and realized that they are pretty much ok with what we have as a regional leaders. Many of ex-Soviet party bosses just continued their careers as "democratic" leaders. For instance, the head of Bashkiria, Murtaza Rakhimov, came to power in 1990 and remained such till 2010. Another example would be Sherig-Ool Oorzhak who was head of Tuva from 1990 till 2007.

  1. The outcome of the Chechen war and possibility of local conflicts

In some cases the was a common consensus that the attempt of separation even if it will be successful will lead to even more problems that no one was willing to be in charge of solving of. For instance, in a unimaginable case of successful secession Dagestan very likely would have end in a civil war. Dagestan is very diverse ethnically, local leaders were ok with the current status quo and were very worried that the fragile ethnical balance will be somehow broken.

  1. Geography

Even in case of successful secession many of local republics would have end up as complete enclaves surrounded by Russia and without access to major water bodies. That would have made their further economic existence very challenging.

See this map I've borrowed from Wikipedia:

enter image description here

  • 1
    The Russian majority in many of these places, was it a result of deliberately settling Russians by the government, or was it organic?
    – Rohit
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 14:34
  • 1
    @Rohit it's a very complicated issue with many aspects to consider however if I had to choose single word - apart from Caucasus I'd rather say that it was organic at least in XXth century. But again, it's a very complicated question.
    – shabunc
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 14:36
  • Good answer, but you should add references. Also, for completeness, one should at least mention the fact that the 15 republics of the USSR became independent de jure after December 31, 1991, since the USSR was dissolved (whether they wanted or not: Central Asian republics had no mass independence movement), while Russian autonomous republics de jure continued to be a part of RF. Once this is clear, your answer applies. Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 15:06
  • @MoisheKohan Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan all declared independence in August, Turkmenistan on October 27, and Kazakhstan on December 10.
    – Spencer
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 16:13

Unlike the SSRs, their constituent republics had no constitutional right to secede. But it doesn't mean some of them didn't try.

First, some background. The settlement of the Russian Empire was a long and complicated process that resulted in uneven distributions of ethnic Russians throughout lands still partly occupied by their indigenous residents. This picture did not get simpler in Soviet times.

On a map, the constituents of the RSFSR look like distinct units. Reality is a lot more complicated. At a glance, the USSR was set up on a "republic per nationality" basis, but that's far from the case - Russia wasn't even the only republic with sub-nationalities. One of the things expected of the "top-level" nationality was to suppress the sub-nationalities within it.

This worked unevenly. As a result, plenty of the ASSRs declared independence during the "parade of sovereignties": Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Adjara, Transnistria, Gagauzia, and Badakhshan. Over the following decades, these states would struggle to obtain international recognition and de jure independence.

The only republic within the RSFSR aside from Chechnya with a significant enough population, natural resource base, economy, national identity and political will to try this was Tatarstan. Following a sovereignty declaration in 1990 alongside the SSRs, it held a referendum in 1992 where 62% of its residents (but under half of the residents in the capital, Kazan, where more Russians live) voted for complete independence from Russia. However, Yeltsin was able to drag out negotiations while consolidating his own power - by 1993, Tatarstan was no longer dealing with the Russia of 1990, but a centralized state under a powerful presidency. Full independence was not on offer, and the Tatars were persuaded to take what they could get.

Other republics stopped short of demanding independence (the collapse of the USSR created a widespread economic crisis and they couldn't afford to cut themselves loose), but many did declare sovereignty and some (such as the Bashkirs) asserted a "voluntary and theoretically reversible integration" with Russia, claiming the legal right to secede at some point in the future. Of course, as history played out they would never be able to exercise this opportunity.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.