On March 21, 2018, a press conference of representatives of indigenous peoples of the Volga region was held in Kyiv. Participants of the event announced the creation of the public movement Free Idel-Ural which would seek real sovereignty for the republics of Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Chuvashia, Udmurtia, Mari El and Mordovia.
The press conference was opened by the former Russian political prisoner Rafis Kashapov, who had spent three years in prison for criticizing Russian aggression against Ukraine. Kashapov is a well-known political and public figure in Tatarstan. At home, he was repeatedly persecuted for his views. The politician believes that Tatarstan should regain the status of a sovereign state and revert to the Constitution of the Republic of Tatarstan of 1992.
“With Vladimir Putin coming to power, the federal center has ceased to perceive Tatarstan as an equal partner. The process of transforming Tatarstan into a Russian colony began. The parliament of the republic was forced to change the Constitution, remove all provisions related to economic and political sovereignty. Similar measures were applied to all the republics of Idel-Ural – not only to Tatarstan, but also to Bashkortostan, Chuvashia, Udmurtia, Mari El and Mordovia”, explains Rafis Kashapov, Member of the Presidium of the All-Tatar Social Center.
Boljan Sires, a veteran of the modern Russian-Ukrainian war and the head of the Erzian Val society in Ukraine, accused Moscow of not only extorting resources from Idel-Ural and using its territory as a resource colony, but also of pursuing aggressive policies of russification towards indigenous peoples: “Neither Tatarstan nor any other republic of the region will be able to single-handedly defend itself from the pressure of Moscow. That is why we call upon our countrymen to show solidarity and unite in the public movement Free Idel-Ural seeking real sovereignty for the republics of Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Chuvashia, Udmurtia, Mari El and Mordovia. An acceptable model for us is the creation of an integration union of sovereign republics, with a common border, common economic space and collective security system.”
The founders of the movement invited their countrymen to join in the public discussion of the principles and ideology of the new association. At the same time, event organizers pledged to start an international campaign in support of national activists and organizations of indigenous peoples persecuted by Moscow.