Current Russia is fairly young. Borders have shifted as recent as august 2014, meaning the Russian annexation of Crimea. In modern times this scares many people, however over the course of history this has happened many times. A brief example of Europe (1):
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 a lot of new countries came into existence. Some with a long history and some with a new history. In the media of Western Europe you mostly hear about countries wishing to separate, like Scotland or Catalonia. There are also countries and areas that want to “rejoin with the motherland”. Both types regions/countries are of interest and in this article we will have a closer look at regions/countries that belong to the former Soviet Union and their relation to current Russia.
Russia is not Russia: Russia is the Russian Federation. Since 2014 Russia consists of 85 federal subjects: 46 oblasts (provinces), 22 republics, 9 krais (territories), 4 autonomous okrugs (autonomous districts),1 autonomous oblast (the Jewish Autonomous Oblast) and 3 federal cities (Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Sevastopol). All these federal subjects have equal rights within the Russian Federation (2). Many of these republics have their own flag, ethnicity and language dating far back in time. With the collapse the Soviet Union, the republics were more likely to look for independence (if they were wishing to acquire that), like: Taterstan, the Sakha Republic (Yakutsia) and Chechnya. Most of these republics have limited their quest for independence after pressure from the government in Moscow, in favour for more autonomy within the framework of the Federation. The only exception being Chechnya. Chechnya has been actively pursuing independence from Russia till this day. Two separate bloody wars have been fought, all though it can be said the war is still going on.
The regions that want to separate from Russia are mostly shown in western media. The opposite (of which exist more) is lesser shown. There are 3 republics actively seeking to join Russia: Transnistria (breakaway republic of Moldova) (3) , South-Ossetia (breakaway republic of Georgia) (4) and to a lesser degree the Donetsk Peoples Republic (breakaway republic of Ukraine) (5). Transnistria and South-Ossetia have a troubled international status which stems from the collapse of the Soviet Union, these are so called frozen conflicts (6). The most recent addition is the Donetsk Peoples Republic, however fighting is still going on and how heavily (if) Russia is involved is not known. Lugansk was also part of this list, however after Ukraine’s successful retaking of Lugansk, the Peoples Republic of Lugansk seems to have little or no existence.
Than there is another region: Crimea. This came as a surprise to many and was largely “underreported” in western media. The annexation of Crimea went relatively peaceful, however it does look like it caused a chain reaction and is partly responsible for the unrest in eastern Ukraine.
The collapse of the Soviet Union happened in 1991, however its new permanent borders have yet to form. The Soviet Union (in its largest form) existed for 69 years. In this time there were no borders and people could move and travel freely (to a certain extent). Old conflicts existed in many areas, but strict government control suppressed and prevented many of these. In the Soviet Union the greater good for the collective was promoted, any other form was discouraged (7). The Soviet Union slowly became the motherland, with its own flag and Russian as its language. The republics that made up the Soviet Union slowly lost their old identities and with it their culture.
Do all these nations have the right to self determination or join another country? One with a western view is quickly convinced to say yes to this question, however because of the complex history and the large (forced) migration of people across the Soviet Union this is a very hard question to answer. All regions are made up of many different ethnicity’s, so to argue on this base is very hard. Many regions have a shared history with their neighbours and the borders have always shifted through out history. Bloody wars have been fought and are being fought at the moment over borders. One thing is for certain: the borders of the Soviet Union have ceased to exist, its internal borders have yet to form. Lets just hope this process will happen in a peaceful way.
7. Lenin, a Biography, Robert Service, 2000, page 442/443