Responses and Prospects
In the mid-1990s, the relationship of Russia's central government to its regional jurisdictions remains tentative; the Yeltsin administration's failure to contain separatist movements is a favorite target of the president's nationalist critics. The Yeltsin government's policy toward separatism grew from the theory that compromises made with individual ethnic groups would satisfy the need to express national identity. Such an approach rests on the proposition that the diverse inhabitants of the Russian Federation ultimately will identify closely enough with the federation to ensure its continuing territorial integrity, and that centrifugal impulses will not lead Russia to the fate suffered by the Soviet Union.
Theoretically, the secession of one component of the Russian Federation could encourage the movement of others in an irrational but uncontrollable domino effect. On the one hand, Russia's inability to reverse secession despite the deployment of a large-scale force in Chechnya is cited by experts as an inducement to other national units to break away. On the other hand, the fact that no minority ethnic group constitutes more than 4 percent of the federation's population militates against breakaway jurisdictions attaining the critical mass and political leverage needed to secede and function successfully as independent nations. In many respects, Russia's ethnic republics, many of which lie deep within the boundaries of the federation, remain heavily dependent on the center, especially in economic matters. For example, under the conditions of the mid-1990s, Tatarstan's oil cannot be processed or transported to the outside world without the utilization of facilities lying outside its borders, in Russia proper. Thus, the threat of secession has now been established as a bargaining chip in the struggle with the central government for political and economic advantage, but it is a threat of limited practical value.