Staunton, December 17 – Tyva, a landlocked republic of just over 300,000 on the border with Mongolia that has already seen the ethnic Russian share of its population drop by 50 percent since 1991, is now experiencing another wave of Russian outmigration. And that puts this once independent Buddhist land on the way to becoming a mono-ethnic republic in the future.
At the time of the 1989 census, Russians formed 32 percent of the population of a land known mostly for its remarkable diamond-shaped stamps issued when it was nominally independent in the 1920s and 1930s, or for American physicist Richard Feyman’s interest in it as a result, an interest chronicled in Ralph Leighton’s 1991 book “Tuva or Bust!”
Much of the decline was precipitated by Tuvan attacks on ethnic Russians in early 1990, attacks in which some 168 ethnic Russians were killed and the Soviet army eventually called in. A small additional outflow took place in the 1990s and early 2000s because of the isolation and economic problems of the region.
But now there is evidence that Russian flight has taken off again, and the head of the republic Sholban Kara-ool has taken great pains to suggest that the only reason they are leaving is economic. His protests on this point suggest, however, that more is at work, including growing hostility among Tuvans to Russian attitudes (tuvaonline.ru/2015/12/15/glava-tuvy-sholban-kara-ool-dal-otkrovennoe-intervyu-na-temu-mezhnacionalnyh-otnosheniy.html).
In an interview with Regnum, Russian political analyst Anatoly Savostin acknowledged that more is at work than just economic factors. He noted that Tyva has succeeded in nationalizing its entire political elite far more than any other region in Siberia and more than most other non-Russian republics elsewhere (regnum.ru/news/polit/2036460.html).
But that success has bread Russian resentment because ethnic Russians now feel excluded from the organs of power in the republic. As a result, they are voting with their feet and leaving Tyva more Tuvan than it has been at any point in the last century, a development that leaves Moscow with less leverage than before on that border republic.