Over the past few days, much of the news cycle in the United States has been dominated by the recent leak of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee. The DNC hack, through all available evidence, shows the fingerprints of actors working on Moscow’s behalf. As Vice’s Thomas Rid noted, “digitally exfiltrating and then publishing possibly manipulated documents disguised as freewheeling hacktivism is crossing a big red line.” Purposefully interfering in, and using unadulterated spycraft to favor a candidate within, an American presidential election represents a wholesale breach of prior geopolitical relations.
However, while the fallout from the DNC leaks continues, details began to emerge on another event taking place in the months leading up to the American election. As NBC reported, next month a conference for Western separatists will take place in Moscow. Much like last year’s “Dialogue of Nations” gathering, this year’s meet-up of fringe secessionists will hail from Northern Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Catalonia, and Basque country, reprising many of the representatives seen in 2015. Additionally, the gathering will see entries from secessionist groups from Texas, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and, for the first time, California.
The secessionist conference is, of course, something of an aberrational offshoot, gathering wishful thinkers across the West. That said, there are a few aspects of the meeting that are worth following and that look much more concerning in light of Moscow’s recent moves to meddle with the West’s internal dynamics.
Firstly, as made clear by the entrants, this year’s roster will see only Western actors, comprised of members only from the United States or the EU. The conference is void of Eurasian or Asian separatists. There will be no Karakalpaks, for instance, nor Uzbeks from southern Kyrgyzstan, nor Russians from northern Kazakhstan. Likewise, no Uyghur or Tibetan representatives from China will appear — nor, of course, any Siberian, Chechen, or Tatar ambassadors. Given the multi-year sentences for Russians who so much as offer any “public calls” in opposition to Russia’s “territorial integrity,” the latter absences aren’t necessarily surprising. But the cast of participants makes the conference’s geopolitical goals clear: undermining and fracturing Western institutions, in alignment with the Kremlin’s broader efforts. But the roster also helps confirm the notion that the conference’s pretensions to support independence movements are, in the end, little more than facile farce.
Secondly, and of more concern, the event’s backers have received funds directly from the Kremlin to help organize the conference. Alexander Ionov, head of the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, noted that the Russian government provided tens of thousands of dollars to “accommodate dozens of guests,” NBC reported. Ionov further maintains ties to Rodina, a political party formed by Russia’s deputy prime minister, in additional to continued relations with Texas separatists, with whom he has cultivated close links under Russian President Vladimir Putin’s third term.
When contacted by email, Ionov noted the success of the 2015 conference, which helped spur this year’s event. “Our efforts have been rather fruitful and helped the movements to spread their ideas and principles,” Ionov said. “We are going to create foundations that will help these movements to broaden their activity.” While none of the Kremlin-linked U.S. white nationalists will appear at next month’s conference, Ionov readily acknowledged that his group’s focus remains on European and American movements.
Further, Ionov pushed back at the notion that any moves toward Russian separatism ever existed:
Hehe, the so-called secession movements within Russia have never existed in reality. Nowadays the so called Russian secession movements were artificially created by US intelligence in order to destabilize [the] political situation. In comparison to western separatist movements, “Russian” movements have no history and strong ideology. The western secession movements exist as an opposition to US imperialism, violence and hatred. And all of them love us, Russians, because we are good, kind and beautiful:)))
Ionov’s conspiratorial view — that the Chechen independence movement, for instance, was an superficial concoction of American intelligence services — mirrors Putin’s, who recently stated that U.S. agents aided Chechen separatism during the early 1990s. Likewise, Ionov’s end goals mirror the conspiracy swirling around Moscow that Washington remains bent on disintegrating Russia — sparked, in part, by claims of supposed telepaths that the United States has worked to fracture Russia since the Soviet Union’s demise.
Of course, the notion that the United States would seek to fracture Russia reeks of myopia, insofar as Russia’s destruction would create an immediate, and staggering, security vacuum for the country’s nuclear and biological weapons. Likewise, such a conspiracy runs contrary to Washington’s wholesale foreign policy approach on Russia’s territorial integrity, a constant from the first Bush administration through the Obama administration’s final year.
That said, it’s worth noting that there may be something to claims of American attempts at Russian fragmentation. According to former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in late 1991, then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney “wanted to see the dismantlement not only of the Soviet Union and the Russian empire but of Russia itself, so it could never again be a threat to the rest of the world.” Cheney’s desires, however, stood in contrast to the rest of President George H.W. Bush’s cabinet, which not only called to maintain Russian territorial sovereignty, but even pushed against the Soviet Union’s collapse into “suicidal nationalism.”
All that said, the notion that the United States is still attempting to rupture Russia is little more than red-meat rhetoric for Putin’s nationalist base. Further, the upcoming conference not only agitates for one of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s “three evils”– separatism–but further hammers Moscow’s standing within Western circles, however little may remain. Certain Texans, Hawaiians, and Californians may wish to snap off of the States, but given the current and continued state of Russia’s economy, it’s a safe bet that burbling separatist support within Russia won’t need any spark from wayward American intelligence operatives.