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May 21, 2014 / Congau

Redrawing Russia?

What is Russia? In a concrete geographical sense the question is simple, isn’t it? There are internationally recognized borders that have settled that issue once and for all, and borders are lines of untouchable truths.

But even if this simple and naïve definition is accepted, the matter is not easy, for borders have in fact changed also in our present age of post World War II order. The borders of Russia have already been altered, and not only was that tolerated in the West, it was greeted with unrestrained applause. I am talking about the fall of the Soviet Union.

Through that sudden collapse a web of new international borders was instantly created, but strangely this massive fact seems to have been disregarded. One pretends that those borders had always been there just because they had been marking the division between the former Soviet republics.  But international borders and borders between administrative regions within one country are very different concepts, aren’t they?

The Soviet republics possessed a negligible degree of independence. The divisions were largely pro forma having little more significance than mere provinces in other countries. But they were called “republics” and this nominal detail made all the difference when the political system crumbled. Just because of the naming one could pretend that nothing had changed in the sacred international order and that no new borders had been drawn.

Of course a huge change had taken place. Russia had lost more than a fifth of its territory. (I call it “Russia” instead of “the Soviet Union” because the latter name was also pro forma. The territory of the Soviet Union was almost identical to that of Russia prior to 1917.)Then what is Russia proper? Is it the one existing before or after 1991?

Obviously, many of the people that got their independence from Russia in 1991 didn’t want to belong to that country, but it should also not be surprising to find ethnic Russians who want to return to the country from which they have been separated. They can only get their will by redrawing international borders in defiance of international principles. That is unfortunate, but the action that caused their alienation from their country in the first place was also a break with international principles.

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