Espreso. Global
Interview

"Ukraine could train future army of independent Bashkiria". Espreso's interview with Ruslan Gabbasov

22 January, 2024 Monday
15:10

"As long as we remain with Moscow, Bashkortostan is doomed," says Ruslan Gabbasov. Bashkir public figure, founder of the Bashkir National Political Center explains why Bashkirs come out to protest

Ruslan Gabbasov, the leader of the Bashkir national liberation movement, spoke to Espreso about the reasons for the protests in Bashkortostan and the prospects for independence of the peoples enslaved by Russia. Video of the conversation in Russian is available on Andrii Ianitskyi's YouTube channel. The Ukrainian translation and text version was prepared by Olha Rura.

From the text you will learn:

  • What the Bashkirs are rebelling against.
  • Who is Fail Alsynov and why people support him.
  • Whether Bashkortostan is ready to become independent from Moscow.
  • Why Western politicians do not support the Bashkirs' desire for independence.
  • Whether Ukraine supports the peoples enslaved by Russia.

Why Bashkirs are protesting

From the news, we know that people in Bashkortostan are protesting over the arrest of Fail Alsinov. Who is this man and why was he arrested? Why did people support him?

Fail Alsinov has been involved in politics in the national movement [of the Bashkir people] for over 15 years. At first, it was in the Kuk-Bure organization, which I later joined. 

(For reference: Kuk-Bure is a Bashkir youth nationalist organization. In Bashkir, "kuk bure" means "sky wolf").

Later, he and I created the organization Bashkort, which was recognized as extremist and banned in Russia. 

Fail Alsinov is an environmental activist and former leader of the Bashkir national organization Bashkort.

Photo taken from social media.

All of these organizations are national. They raised the issue of protecting the rights, language, culture and traditions of the Bashkir people, as well as protecting the land from barbaric exploitation, protecting the constitutional rights and sovereignty of the republic, etc. Of course, the [Moscow] authorities did not like this. They persecuted us, opened criminal cases, fined us, imprisoned us, etc. After we were recognized as an extremist organization, I was forced to leave - I have now been granted political asylum in Lithuania, while Fail Alsinov remained in the republic.

After the protests on the [sacred to the Bashkirs] Kushtau mountain [where the Moscow authorities planned to extract minerals], the Bashkirs realized how the authorities treated them, and this caused a storm of discontent. 

As a result, the [Moscow-appointed] head of the Republic of Bashkortostan, Radiy Khabirov, pledged to refrain from developments on Kushtau until a compromise could be reached. Ultimately, the activists succeeded in protecting Mount Kushtau, but numerous individuals faced subsequent pressure, with criminal cases initiated against many, including us.

Activists opposed to the excavation of Kushtau Mountain in Bashkortostan.

Photo: Vadim Braydov/TASS

Radiy Khabirov is the Moscow-appointed head of the Republic of Bashkortostan. He was given the task of dealing with the national movement, which he began to do.

He banned our organization, imprisoned Ayrat Dilmukhametov, one of the well-known and authoritative figures of the Bashkir national movement, imprisoned Ramila Saitova, Lilia Chanysheva and many others.

Fail Alsinov remained the last free authoritative leader of the national movement among the Bashkir people, especially after the events in Kushtau. 

The Republic of Bashkortostan possesses abundant natural resources, yet various businessmen, through bribing corrupt officials, attempt to extract copper, gold, and zinc. Laborers from Central Asia and the Caucasus work in the quarries, while the local population is forced to seek employment in other regions.

This reflects a colonial policy where Moscow officials permit foreign companies to exploit our natural resources. Over 50% of Bashkortostan's population resides in villages, and such activities disrupt areas where people can engage in cattle grazing and agriculture. The local populace has begun to voice their opposition to this.

From left to right, arrested activists of the Bashkir national movement: Lilia Chanysheva, second, Airat Dilmukhametov, and Ramila Saitova.
Photo: idelreal.org

During one of these events, Fail Alsinov delivered a speech in which he underscored that our land is being plundered, and our people are being sent to war in Ukraine, where they are losing their lives instead of defending their homeland.

He said that the Bashkirs have nowhere to leave.

"Armenians will go to their own country, Russians will go to Ryazan, Tatars will go to Tatarstan, Kara Khalik will go to their own country. This is our land and we have nowhere to leave."

These words were distorted and presented as "incitement to ethnic hatred" as if he was expelling other nationalities from the Republic.

(A Russian court ruled that the words "kara khalik" uttered by Alsinov "correspond to the meaning of the words 'khachi', 'churki', etc (slurs for the people from Central Asia), although “kara khalik” actually means people of labor, and Fail explains that he meant laborers who come to Bashkortostan from other countries or regions).

This response of the people who came out to protest is a desperate step. We have seen what protests in Russia lead to: unarmed people are caught by the Russian Guard and sentenced to fictitious sentences. Can we expect these protests to end in victory for the protesters?

Sooner or later, it will end in our victory. Not long ago, people doubted their abilities. Many supported Khabirov's policy. At the moment, everyone can clearly see what kind of person he is - ready to destroy his own people.

Khabirov personally wrote the denunciation against Fail Alsinov - he asked to check the activist for "extremist activities" and "discrediting" the Russian army.

The entire Bashkir intelligentsia, including the elite, professors, scientists, former politicians, artists, and more, rallied in support of Fail Alsinov. Numerous appeals were documented, indicating his significant popularity and the widespread resistance against tolerating injustice among the people.

(The Baymak District Court handed down a four-year prison sentence in a general regime colony to Fail Alsinov. Despite adverse weather conditions, several thousand people (varying estimates ranging from 5,000 to 10,000) gathered for several days near the court building in the Bashkir city of Baymak. Protests also unfolded in the capital of Bashkiria, Ufa).

Fail Alsinov in the courtroom. January 17, 2024.

Photo: SOTA / AFP / Scanpix / LETA

Can Bashkortostan be free from Moscow?

How realistic is the scenario of the republic's independence today?  

The disintegration of Russia is not contingent on Putin or me. It is an event that will inevitably occur sooner or later—it is the course of history. Russia, being an empire, has already experienced collapse twice but has not yet disintegrated. In 1917, some countries seceded, and today they thrive independently; in 1991, 14 more republics followed suit. Regional forces, national movements, and republics aspiring for independence exist.

This disintegration does not necessarily have to happen tomorrow. But the longer Putin stays in power, the faster and more powerful it will be.

All national republics are colonies. Moscow is just a center that sucks all the juices from the republics. It gives us nothing, it only demands.

Bashkortostan is quite rich in natural resources. We have a well-developed industrial complex. We have a population that is ready to work both physically and intellectually. We are fully equipped to live independently, as we are no less capable than Moldovans, Armenians, Uzbeks, or Kyrgyz.

You often speak at conferences abroad. How do foreign politicians perceive the idea of Bashkortostan's independence? 

Some politicians believe in the idea of Bashkortostan's independence. For example, Anna Fotyga is a Polish politician and member of the European Parliament from Poland.

However, most Western politicians do not believe that the breakup of Russia is possible. They do not want to believe.

It is beneficial for them that Russia remains, because it is a cheap gas station from which they get oil and gas. But oil and gas are located on our territories, on the territories of enslaved peoples, so this is simply sponsoring colonialism.

Ruslan Gabbasov's speech in the European Parliament.
Screenshot from the YouTube channel Ruslan Gabbasov

What do Western politicians fear when you tell them about the collapse of Russia? Uncontrolled nuclear weapons? Of a stronger China?

We have long refuted the arguments and fears about uncontrolled nuclear weapons. We are ready to gladly give up nuclear weapons deployed on our territory to gain independence. There are many countries without nuclear weapons. 

The same goes for fears of China's rise. China is not taking over Mongolia with its vast territory. Yes, it is pursuing economic expansion, but it is up to the governments of the new states that will be formed to determine how much they will be subject to Chinese influence. If Western politicians wanted to, they would have helped us a long time ago.

How Ukraine does or does not support the Bashkirs

What about the position of the Ukrainian government?

A lot has been done, even the Verkhovna Rada has introduced resolutions recognizing the independence of the Chechen Republic, as well as Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, and Ingushetia.

But we still cannot create military structures or legions in Ukraine, and we constantly encounter all sorts of obstacles.

However, we are well aware that in this area, Ukraine must take into account the opinion of its Western partners, because it depends on the supply of weapons. I would like Ukraine to show firmness in this matter and support our national movement.

If national movements had received at least some funding to create their own armed structures, the protests that erupted in Bashkortostan would have had much worse consequences for Russia. 

Russian liberals, who vociferously express their desire to oust Putin, remain conspicuously silent on the developments in Bashkortostan. They don't want Russia to collapse, they just want to replace one dragon with another dragon.

But there are still Bashkirs in the Ukrainian army?

Yes, there are those who are fighting, there are those who want to join, but they cannot enter Ukraine because of a number of bans.

The best option would be to set up training camps to prepare armed groups that would use Fidel Castro's plan to land in Cuba. I am talking about training the future Armed Forces of Bashkortostan on the territory of Ukraine.

What about softer, symbolic or diplomatic actions?

Yes, this would also help, but the political vector is not very effective. At least I know that the Verkhovna Rada has created a committee to support the peoples enslaved by Russia, but I don't see any active work. 

(The inter-factional association for the decolonization and dismantling of the Russian Empire includes MPs Oleh Dunda, Vitalii Bezhin, Mariia Mezentseva, Heorhii Mazurashu (all from the Servant of the People party), Yuliia Klymenko and Nataliia Pipa (both from the Voice party) - ed.)

The Verkhovna Rada. Illustrative photo by rada.gov.ua

What would you like to say or convey to your countrymen if they read this conversation?

I would like to say that Moscow has turned our republic into a colony. We are like a disenfranchised beggarly region. If back in the 90s we were one of the richest republics with rights, today we are being drained of all our resources: our people are being assimilated, our human resources are being exploited without rights, and our land is being sold to outsiders. We are losing our identity and decreasing in number.

Remaining in this empire, we will only disappear. Look at Kazakhstan or other brotherly nations: Kyrgyz or Uzbeks. After gaining independence, they grew in number. They are independent states with their own economies, cultures, and institutions. We will lose everything by staying in this empire. As long as we are with Russia, we are doomed.

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