Staunton, February 10 – Three times in the last month, Dmitry Verkhoturov has taken to the pages of Irkutsk’s Babr news portal to argue that few if any Siberians are interested in independence for their enormous region or willing to work to achieve that end (babr24.com/irk/?IDE=169763, babr24.com/irk/?IDE=169977babr24.com/msk/?IDE=170563).
If there really are so few and if they so lack conviction, why does he feel the need to keep saying this over and over again? There are at least three possibilities. First, of course, the commentator could be simply wrong: the number of people east of the Urals who at least have thought about and might like independence is far larger than he says.
Second, he may want to cover up his own past when he often advocated autonomy or even more for Siberia. There is no one so passionate about denouncing an idea than someone who once held it. (See among others (See eurozine.com/whats-in-store-for-the-siberian-movement/ (2015) and windowoneurasia.blogspot.com/2009/04/window-on-eurasia-moscows-heavy.html).
And third, Moscow may be more concerned about this issue than it or Verkhoturov admits. As he notes, while most of what he says are the small number of partisans of Siberian independence do so quietly, a growing number do so “under the cover of the opposition slogan ‘Russia without Putin.’”
The Kremlin would clearly be pleased to link in this election those opposed to the incumbent president with advocates of what it would define as secession. Talking about those who want independence for Siberia and simultaneously oppose Putin is an extremely useful way to tie the one group to the other, however large either is.