When is Putin’s secession-referendum for Chechnya, Dagestan and Karelia?

Vladimir Putin’s concern for the will of the people brings a tear to the eye and a glow to the heart.

The Kremlin cares, gosh darn it, and if you want to secede, then Russia is going to make it happen.

And they’ll start with a referendum, just as the Russians have done in the Ukrainian region of Crimea where a whopping 96% of those voting, voted to leave! The Russians were so insistent on Crimea’s right to be “liberated,” that they only gave the Crimeans two choices on the ballot: secede; or secede and join Russia.  (Seriously.)

In view of Russia’s George-Washington-like zeal for freedom and independence, I’m looking forward to the upcoming referenda in Russian Chechnya, Dagestan and Karelia.


Old wooden churches on island Kizhi on Onega (Onezhskoye) lake in region Karelia on North of Russia, UNESCO World Heritage site (Shutterstock)

Old wooden churches on the island of Kizhi in Kurelia, Russia — a UNESCO World Heritage site (Shutterstock)

A funny thing happened a few years ago when a man in Russian (occupied) Karelia, along the Finnish border, sent some emails and posted some flyers around town advocating a referendum for Karelian independence.

He was arrested and charged with “extremism.”

The unnamed man’s specific crimes included “putting leaflets into mailboxes in the Karelian town of Sortavala and e-mail[ing] his appeal to Russian and foreign media outlets and nongovernmental organizations.”

He didn’t invade.  He didn’t bring his little tank into town, put on a mask and take over the local hotel.  He simply handed out some leaflets and sent a few emails.

And that got him arrested and charged with extremism.



"HOW would you react to the possible secession of Chechnya from RUSSIA?" Poll of Russian citizens by Levada, June 2013

“How would you react to the possible secession of Chechnya from RUSSIA?” Poll of Russian citizens by Levada, June 2013

Chechnya has been yearning to breathe free from Russia for 155 years.

Russia acquired the region in 1859, but then Chechnya broke free immediately following the Russian Revolution of 1917, only to find its reacquired again in 1922.

Then, after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, Chechnya declared independence.  That didn’t go over too well with Moscow.

Interestingly, only 23% of Russians in a poll last year seemed to give a darn about Chechnya seceding from Russia at all.  And only 10% would want the Kremlin to actually do anything about it were Chechnya to leave the glorious union.

Sounds ripe for a referendum, nyet-pas?


The Russian region of Dagestan declared independence in the late 1990s. It didn’t go so well either. Putin responded swiftly and put the revolution down.

Interestingly, Chechnya and Dagestan are both pretty near Crimea (see map below).

Look, we all know Putin is full of it.  He claims to be invading Ukraine in order to stop “the nazis,” even though he’s more than happy to tolerate Nazis at home.  And no one is surprised that the Russians fixed the election in Crimea, North-Korea-style, ensuring it won a victory in the upper 90s (only someone who has no concept of democracy and freedom would think a plausible election result is in the 90th percentile range).  Still, it’s important to call them out on their lies.

(I’m told that in order to better see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me.)


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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40 Responses to “When is Putin’s secession-referendum for Chechnya, Dagestan and Karelia?”

  1. oskar says:

    Boy am I glad Czech Republic is in NATO :-)
    Germans were so happy to start WW2 because they lost the first one. Now Russia lost the Cold War so people are inside angry about it and Putin now makes them feel strong spending money from Europe on weapons. What people will not realize, because there is no free press, is that Russia gets 70 percent of its income from gas and oil. We (mostly EU) pay ordinary Russians retirements and more. If we stopped buying gas and oil from Russia it would not be easy for us. As a matter of fact it would drive us to use alternatives so it would be good in the long run. Anyway, we would suffer but Russia would break down and since they have nuclear weapons that is a scary idea. We are keeping Russia stable and we have to do so in the future.

  2. Concerned Brit says:

    Great point, well made…. I am glad someone of influence has said this as I have been saying it for quite some time now.

    He would be well advised to look at the problems in his own country which are of his own making, instead of focusing on bolstering his waning popularity by ill-thought and knee-jerk policies. These decisions will stay with the people of Ukraine and Crimea for many years to come, long after the same events are forgotten by ordinary Russians. Add to that his blatent homphobia and his fixation on an old USSR which will never return – a heady mix indeed.

    Russia now looks like a dictatorship, sounds like a dictatorship and smells like a dictatorship. What does that make it?

  3. Русскоязычный says:

    add Kaliningrad, Sakhalin, Yakutia and a bunch of other regions to the list

  4. David J. Gill says:

    Don’t you wonder how these cultures and identities have survived all this brutality…For instance, the Ukraine was brutalized by Stalin before the war, then torn apart by Hitler, then flattened by the armies of both as the Germans were driven back, then persecuted by
    Stalin again.
    How can this country exist after all that? And, now corrupt politicians take all they can and now that Ukraine is finally independent Putin bullies, threatens and invades.

  5. David J. Gill says:

    Very interesting …so well explained.

  6. David J. Gill says:

    Do you mean breaking what is Russia on the world map today? Why would he fear that? Referring to the wikipedia article you indicate I would say Crimea is hard to resolve historically, the Caucasus is very confused…with overlapping historical claims, Karelia was taken by Stalin without justification. These are tiny bits.

  7. David J. Gill says:

    What hatred…in the main article at teh top of the page…it is very fair.
    You are just as biased as you claim the author of this article is then if you think that. The reality of US policy is as complex as the political condition in Egypt, for instance. When will sort itself out? You will blame the US for getting involved in Libya’s revolution and then you will blame the US for NOT getting involved in Syria. And that’s how the criticism of the US goes.
    If you have guts you will understand what goes on in the world and not cast blame around so cerelessly.

    (note: I will not defend anything that George W. Bush did in Iraq or Afghaistan!)

  8. David J. Gill says:

    What are you talking about? What coup? no one is impressed by your smart ass, obtuse, cynical comments.

  9. David J. Gill says:

    No one in the West wants Russian disintegration, in fact the world wants Russian stability, prosperity, democracy etc. In fact, informed people admire many things about Russia and Russian culture. Don’t confuse outrage and opposition in the USA and elsewhere with hatred of Russia or a desire to sabotage Russian security or prosperty. Putin himself is the issue. Yes, he is intelligent, strong…a commanding personality…not a bumbling drunkard like Yeltsin or a puppet like Medvedev (spelling?) but his behavior is a threat to peace I don’t think you get it because the media in Russia is controlled by Putin.

    If Ukrainian territorial questions are as you say they are then negotiations should be proposed. But an invasion is a grossly provacative action. It means Russia under Putin can not be trusted.

    You do realize that WWII started with similar sorts of demands for territory in Czechoslovakia by Hitler! Yes? These are very similar events…as is Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Do you see why the Crimea event is so disturbing to the rest of the world?

    So what is Putin’s next territorial demand?

  10. David J. Gill says:

    Impoverished Finland? Did you mean something else because the GDP per capita of Finland is double that of Russia. Why would the population of Karelia not want to return to Finland. It is a wealthy country, with a generous social welfare, a legal system, very low crime, democracy.

  11. Goresh says:

    Chechnya held a referendum on membership of the Russian Federation on March 23, 2003 which overwhelmingly voted in favour of being part of the Russian Federation.

    I suspect they greatly feared a return of the Muslim extremist Taliban style dictatorship whose invasion of Russian Dagestan led to the second Chechnyan war.

  12. alex from russian karelia says:

    Friends. you have the wrong idea about Russia. Chechnya and Dagestan never leave Russia. These regions are very well subsidized from the Russian federal budget. Population lives very comfortably in his apartment and has expensive cars. Where will they go from Russia? Maybe the U.S. wants to take them? I live in Karelia all my life. None of the people living here do not want to leave Russia. Be part of the impoverished Finland or to become a member of the EU is a bad idea. Karels go to Finland to ski and shopping. Europe has nothing to offer us. Come and see it for yourself.

  13. Naja pallida says:

    Such a great place that they couldn’t even run the Olympic torch through Makhachkala, they had to drastically reduce the number of torch bearers and reduce the route to mostly confined within a local football stadium, surrounded by a thousand police. American ‘provocateurs’ are the least of your problems. When do you suppose Putin will get around to actually caring about you?

  14. Andrey says:

    im from Russia, from Dagestan. And i love Russia and respect Putin.
    Dagestan, Chechnya , Karelia will be forever with Russia! You’re American provocateur you better shut your mouth.

  15. tkb2014 says:

    its obvious isn’t it were just lucky that russia today is weaker than the soviet union and that most of the old soviet countries are in nato

  16. Petr Seberád says:

    I would love Russian strong, developed and with independent press. The worst is imperialistic thinking and abuse of panslavism.

  17. Alex Gray says:

    Putin is concerned about the unity of Russia, not its disintegration, as some in the West would love. Crimea has been Russian for centuries and was only given to the Ukrainian SSR (i.e. NOT independent Ukraine) as a symbolic gesture by Krushchev in 1954 within the context of Ukraine being one country with Russia (the USSR). So it is not about Putin championing the idea of self-determination as an absolute principle, but about the particular status of Crimea within its historical context. The reintegration of Crimea into Russia is simply an act of righting an historical mistake. But if the USA / EU / NATO disagree, then perhaps they could explain why they think that international law, as concerns Ukrainian territorial integrity, should be defined by the unilateral decision of a former leader of what Reagan called “The Evil Empire”. Suddenly Krushchev’s crazy decision defines American foreign policy! As for double standards, well, the Americans are the very LAST people to lecture others on that topic!

  18. Edward says:

    Obama’s concern for the will of the people brings a tear to the eye and a glow to the heart. Nothing like fascism and the legitimacy of an unelected coup ousting a democratically elected president. Land of the free, land of the hypocrites

  19. Claudio G says:

    I thoroughly agree, little by little Russia is taking over different regions without asking any permission to anyone. to ask for a free referendum with 20,000 troops invading the lands in my view is a bad joke!

  20. AnthonyLook says:

    How unPutin whoreshipping Republican of you to paint a set of scenarios before Fox blames President Obama about it’s possibilities and Palin takes credit for predicting it.

  21. Paul Gaffney says:

    A week ago I sent an email to the PBS Newshour asking why no one was talking about Russia and Chetchnya as regarding the Crimean Penninsula. I received no response. Thank you for your blog. I agree totally.

  22. Riyal MHH says:

    So much of hatred in this article. sorry bro cool down and think abt Kosovo ,Libiya, Egypt,Tunisaa and Syria. if you have guts write a article condemning US actions on those country.

  23. dcinsider says:

    It’s almost like you don’t trust Putin.

  24. eggroll_jr says:

    Finland, under the Moscow Peace Treaty, was allowed to evacuate Karelia. It meant a loss of about 11% of the country’s land area, but Finland was not absorbed into the USSR. Many of the people who occupy Karelia today were migrants from elsewhere in the Soviet Union. Indeed, a quick trip over the border to a Karelian town like Petroskoi (Petrozavodsk) finds most of the population Russified. Finland does keep an automatic citizenship option open for Ingria people, who traditionally occupied land between east Estonia and St. Petersburg, but linguistically were practically Finnish. You don’t have this irredenta as you do in so many other places. Naturally, the Finns who lost their farms to the Soviet annexation are still sore on this point. It was pretty sad what fifty years of Soviet lifestyle did to the place, and suggests why Russians still are having such a hard time becoming a “normal” European culture.

  25. DRK says:

    I think the most western side with the biggest cities. Breaking up of Mother Russia is Putins biggest fear http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republics_of_Russia.

  26. dula says:

    Well as long as you’re so absolutely sure the West’s predatory capitalism will be a better deal for ordinary Ukrainians than Russian oligarchy, perhaps they should embrace the EU/US/IMF. It’s strange though to see so many “liberals”
    rail against what the corporatocracy has done to the US and then turn around and throw the Ukrainians to the same wolves. The Shock Doctrine indeed.

  27. FLL says:

    The article you linked to is a litany of name calling (coup, fascist, coup, fascist) and conspiracy theory. Here’s how he describes the deaths of 100 protestors who were shot dead: “the still unidentified sniper killings of more than 100 protestors and police forces in Kiev.” I guess they must have shot themselves, or better yet, the neo-Nazis shot them to make Yanukovych look bad. I don’t think anyone, other than this author, believes that someone other than Yanukovych is responsible for those 100 deaths. From another part of the article, the author apparently expects the reader to be horrified by the fact that one of the richest men in the Fatherland Party, Victor Pinchuk, is friends with Bill Gates and (Obama contributor) Warren Buffet. This is supposed to be the paragon of evil. This author’s economic predictions are not to be taken seriously because his bias in favor of Yanukovych and Putin is so apparent throughout. He describes the Orange Revolution of 2004 (using sarcastic quotation marks, of course) in tragic terms:

    The Orange Revolution of 2004 resulted in severing much (but not all) of the Ukrainian economy from Russia. That caused significant economic contraction for the Ukrainian economy for several years after. Think of the similar effects of the severance as if the west coast economy of the US—California, Oregon, Washington—were stripped from the USA and joined Canada.

    This author doesn’t even consider Ukraine an independent country, but more like a part of Russia, like the Pacific Coast states are part of the United States. If Yanukovych was a better option, why did he embezzle the entire contents of the Ukrainian treasury, and why has Ukraine been doing so poorly since 2010? That was under Yanukovych’s leadership, right? And this is what you support? The economic leadership of Yanukovych or Putin? Think it through again and tell me why a customs union with Russia would benefit the average Ukrainian.

  28. Naja pallida says:

    That depends on how far back into history you want to go, like many ethnicities these days, we’re all kinda muddied. Russia has been a multi-ethnic country for a very long time, and consists of something like 150 different distinct groups… but generally speaking, the area between the current Oblasts of Moscow, Smolensk, Novgorod, and Vologda. Less than 2% of Russia’s current territory, would classify as the ethnic Russian “home”. Each successive conquering and territorial expansion brought other groups and territories into Russia, and during both the Tsarist and Soviet eras extensive programs of supplanting native populations with Russians in key strategic areas took place, especially in the Black Sea region. Which every Russian leader since the collapse of the Byzantine Empire has seen as vital – as Russia considered itself basically the third Roman Empire. Not to say that many of those added ethnic groups don’t very much consider themselves Russians. One could spend a whole lifetime studying the complexities of internal Russian ethnic relations, and still not get a clear picture.

  29. dula says:

    Lol you didn’t respond to the very thorough article about how depending on the West would be bad for Ukrainians.

  30. FLL says:

    Will you ever get tired of name-calling? A coup? The Ukrainian legislature let Yanukovych know that there were enough votes to impeach him and remove him from office, and Yanukovych left early the next morning, in effect resigning. Richard Nixon’s resignation happened under the same circumstances. Would you also like to call that a coup? And many would think that Yanukovych deserves impeachment and removal from office even more since he ordered his loyalist police force to shoot 80 protestors dead, as opposed to Nixon who burglarized the offices of the opposition party. But let’s move on to the fun stuff: your leftist critique.

    From your comment of March 12 (link here): “I support including Russia in an economic agreement with the Ukraine…”

    This is a proposal for Ukraine to join a customs union that is dominated by hyper-capitalist system with a flat corporate tax rate of 13% (second in that category only to the United Arab Emirates). How could any rational person offer that as a “leftist” critique? OMG, do you think anyone actually takes you seriously? Western Europe is downright socialist in comparison to your proposed economic alliance between Ukraine and Russia.

    Then you describe yourself as the “dreaded unreasonable left,” leaving unanswered the mystery of how Russia’s economic system, which is more laissez-faire capitalist than the West, is somehow the more leftist choice. Clearly you think that anyone who disregards your bizarre critique are apparently in dread of you. I don’t your comments evoke fear; I think they evoke curiosity. Go back to your comment that I quoted above. It’s an obvious contradiction to equate that with any leftist. That’s why I say that your comments evoke curiosity. Since you offer illogical and contradictory statements (over and over and over again), people are curious as to what your real motivations and purposes are. Now I understand that Americablog’s moderators prefer that we don’t comment on issues that are strictly… ahem… personal, but how else can we possibly make sense of your constant cheerleading for hyper-capitalist dictators who have their critics imprisoned or attacked by proxies? Your quote again, in case you’ve forgotten it:

    From your comment of March 12 (link
    : “I support including Russia in an economic
    agreement with the Ukraine…”

  31. Indigo says:

    Which brings us to the question which I have never really be able to answer: Which part of Russia is actually Russian?

  32. dula says:

    The antics of oligarch Putin aside, I still haven’t heard any credible accounting from the pro-coup side about how hitching the Ukrainian wagon to the West is going to benefit the ordinary Ukrainian.
    Here’s a view that I’m sure you’ll disagree with because it comes from the “radical left” (the dreaded unreasonable left that you I mean Obama laments whenever they hold his feet to the fire):

    “Even if one assumes all the IMF’s $15 billion will actually go into the Ukrainian economy directly the concurrent cuts to gas subsidies, pensions, government jobs and government spending demanded by the IMF/EU deal will almost certainly offset much, if not all, of the IMF/EU $15 billion.”


  33. FLL says:

    The U.S. bought Alaska from Czarist Russia, so I hope we get to keep Alaska. But Sarah Palin? My fondest hope is that Sarah doesn’t have to see Russia from her house because her house is in Russia.

  34. TampaZeke says:

    …and Alaska? He’s already got Sarah Palin and the Tea Party singing his praises.

  35. FLL says:

    I didn’t realize that there are 21 “Republics of Russia,” which represent areas of non-Russian ethnicity within the Russian Federation. Chechnya and Dagestan have the strongest case for independence because of their history of brutal oppression under the Czars and horrific oppression under the Soviets. 50,000 Chechens and 12,000 neighboring Ingush fought against Nazi Germany on the front lines of WWII, and many of them were later recognized as heroes of the USSR. Do you know what the Chechens and Ingush got as their thanks? The Soviet government, under Stalin, falsely accused them of supporting the Nazis, and their entire nations—men, women and children—were deported to Central Asia and Siberia, resulting in 60% of them dying (no doubt by design).

    But an ironic thing happened about ten years before that. During 1932-1933, when the Soviet government was carrying out planned genocide against the Ukrainian nation known as the Holomodor (killing at least 4 million of them), Chechnya was flooded with many Ukrainians fleeing the genocide.
    Despite the threats from the Russian government not to provide food and
    shelter to starving Ukrainians, the Chechens did not follow
    Russian orders. As the result, many of the Ukrainians settled in
    the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic on a permanent basis and were able to survive the

    And today, on the comment pages of this blog, the Ukrainian population of the 1940s is labeled Nazi because they took the opportunity to fight against Stalin’s government, the very government that had mass murdered 4 million of their people not many years before. Who in their right mind wouldn’t have fought against Stalin, under the circumstances. And the Chechens, who actually did fight on Stalin’s side during WWII received, as their thanks, the mass murder of 60% of their population and exile for the rest.

    Just for the record, Boris Yeltsin didn’t want Chechnya to declare independence because he was afraid that many of the other 20 non-ethnic-Russian “Russian Republics” within the Russian Federation might want to do the same. Here is a map of the 21 Russian Republics, which are populated by non-Russian ethnic groups:

  36. BeccaM says:

    Yeah, well the only ‘elections’ Putin believes in are ones totally rigged ones.

    I personally have no doubt at all he’s a Soviet-style hardliner who bitterly regrets the breakup of the USSR.

  37. MichaelS says:

    Great point, and as obvious as it is, we all seem to have missed it. The US should sponsor UN resolution after resolution calling for such referendae, “in the spirit of the Crimean referendum”

  38. It’s not cheap and easy at all. I spent far too many years studying, then visiting, then working on issues associated with the Soviet Union, and then Russia, and the place is a dangerous mess that’s growing more and more dangerous every day. I have zero humility for proven tyrants, “redscot.” And yes, anyone who believes in human rights and the basic dignity of human beings absolutely positivel had better have an opinion on how the rest of the world ought to be run. Otherwise, apartheid was just a difference of opinion, as was WWII, at least as it concerns Germany.

  39. redscott says:

    I know Putin is full of shit, but let’s not be full of shit ourselves and pretend that this is some pleasing moraility tale with the Russians wearing the black hats and everyone opposing them wearing white ones. Let’s also not pretend that, debates over the form of the referendum aside, a majority of the people of the Crimea wouldn’t want to be part of Russia, especially since they had been for hundreds of years. I know it’s cheap and pleasing for Americans like John to let their self-righteousness out for a spin, especially when it costs them nothing, but let’s not pretend that we know our asses from our elbows when it comes to this part of the world, because we don’t. A little humility, balance, and perspective might be nice when it comes to us telling us the rest of the world how it ought to be run, especially considering our wonderful recent track record.

  40. Good Point John, we know why Putin isn’t about to allow a referendum in those regions.

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