Putin Warns Ethnic Tensions Risk Tearing Russia Apart

Gleb Bryanski, Reuters, January 23, 2012

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, warning ethnic tensions could tear Russia apart, said on Monday he would toughen migration rules and keep a tight rein on Russia’s regions to prevent it following the Soviet Union into oblivion.

In a newspaper article and an address in southern Russia, Putin used the danger of ethnic discord to call for limits on electoral reforms.

“With the collapse of the country (the Soviet Union), we were on the edge—and in some regions over the edge—of civil war,” Putin wrote in Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

“With great effort, with great sacrifice we were able to douse these fires. But that doesn’t mean that the problem is gone,” he wrote in the second of a series of articles promoting his leadership goals ahead of a March 4 presidential election.

Putin, in power since 2000 and favored to win a six-year presidential term in March, described a Soviet-style vision of a country in which the rights of ethnic minorities would be respected but Russian language and culture would dominate.

“The Russian people, the Russian culture is the glue holding together the unique fabric of this civilization,” Putin wrote.

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Thousands of nationalists have protested in Moscow over migration and state subsidies to the mostly Muslim North Caucasus, where an Islamist insurgency rooted in the Chechen wars persists.

Comparing nationalism to a disease, Putin took aim at ethnic Russian nationalists, who have been among the 59-year-old prime minister’s most vociferous critics.

“If a multiethnic society is infected by nationalism, it loses its strength and durability,” Putin wrote. “We need to understand what far-reaching effects can be caused by attempts to inflame national enmity and hatred.”

He said minorities must live under the umbrella of Russian culture, and migrants must pass exams in Russian language and history. Authorities should be given more power to vet migrants’ professional skills and students should read some 100 national classics.

But he also said the best way to stem migration was by creating favorable conditions for citizens to work in their native regions.

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Yet in a sign he will not reverse a consolidation of power in Moscow, Putin said he could not allow regional political parties because some could be created on ethnic lines, calling it a “direct path to separatism.”

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