federalism had evolved as a result of two conflicting tendencies:
the growing national separatism and the Russian tradition of a
centralized, unitary state. From the early stages of Russian
statehood, the country comprised nationalities and ethnic groups of
diverse cultural backgrounds and varying levels of development. In
the pre-revolutionary Russia the unity of the tsarist empire was
cemented by the powerful integrating role of the Russian imperial
nation and the relatively low level of national development of the
mass of the empire’s ethnic populations.
Even at the
start of the twentieth century most of the non-Russian
nationalities, which evolved their nationalist movements, did not
dream of independent statehood: their most radical demands did not
go beyond the desire of cultural autonomy within the Russian empire.
Only with the collapse of tsarism and the establishment of the
Bolshevik dictatorship Soviet Russia became formally a federative
based ostensibly on a national-territorial principle, Soviet
federalism was not a result of integration of national states that
had existed before. On the contrary, Soviet republics themselves
were typically creations of the federal center. Moreover, the
central authorities in Moscow devised a union treaty and set up a
federation, which some of these entities joined as union republics,
while others as autonomous territories within union republics. As a
result, a complex, multitiered federative
structure took shape.
Most of the
autonomous ethnic-national territories were located within the
Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, the Soviet core
republic, which itself was an artificial creation similar to other
union republics. At the time of the formation of the USSR in 1922 no
one could have predicted that the RSFSR’s administrative borders
would become contours of the new Russia that would emerge at the end
of the twentieth century as a result of the Soviet collapse.