If the problem of separatism in Russia were a leaking dam, President Dmitri A. Medvedev, or rather Putin, might run out of fingers. Since the extinction of the USSR as an international entity, separatists and separatist ideas have been, basically, running amok. The Russia policy of aiding and abetting, and recognizing the independence of some breakaway states, while refusing others, is reeking havoc.
In the early 90s, the Russian Federal troops fought two wars with Chechnya over independence, defeated the separatist government in the second conflict and placed a pro-Russian government in power. Not that all is quiet. To the contrary, there is still a "small but smoldering insurgency fighting for Chechnya's independence from Russia."
To combat this "smoldering insurgency," men in masks burn down the houses of those who still join the fight for Chechnya independence:
The man lit the torch and tossed it inside. The air whooshed. Flames shot through the house.
The attack, late last month, was part of what Chechens described as an intensified government effort to stamp out the remnants of a war that has continued, at varying levels of ferocity, for nearly 15 years.
The burnings have been accompanied by a program, embraced by Ramzan A. Kadyrov, Chechnya's president, that has forced visibly frightened parents of insurgents to appear on television and beg their sons to return home.
"If you do not come back I will never forgive you," one father, Ruslan Bachalov, said to his son on a recent broadcast. "I will forgive the man who will kill you."
"I have no other way out," he added. "The authorities and the president demand that I bring my son back."
In the arson cases, each attack has followed the same pattern. The families have been awakened by men in uniforms and black ski masks who have herded residents outside and then torched their homes. Many of the attacks have been accompanied by stern declarations that the homes were being destroyed as punishment.
I don't know if government sanctioned arson is the best way to cure the disaffected. I suspect the disaffected just grow more angry, but I only guessing. The key point here is that it has been nearly 15 years since the end of the last Chechnya war and the problem hasn't gone away.
Other regions in the Russian Federation exude a certain desire for separation, one is Dagestan, a neighbor of Chechnya, and more importantly, there's Tatarstan.
Tatarstan is "an economic powerhouse in the heart of Russia, boasting both oil reserves and the political stability that is catnip to investors," and also has a historical yearning for independence.
An association of nationalist groups, the All-Tatar Civic Center, swiftly published an appeal that "for the first time in recent history, Russia has recognized the state independence of its own citizens" and expressed the devout wish that Tatarstan would be next. The declaration was far-fetched, its authors knew: One of Vladimir V. Putin's signal achievements as Mr. Medvedev's predecessor was to suppress separatism. The Tatar movement was at its lowest ebb in 20 years.
But Moscow's decision to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia made Tatarstan's cause seem, as Rashit Akhmetov put it, "not hopeless."
Mr. Akhmetov, editor in chief of Zvezda Povolzhya, an opposition newspaper in Kazan, said, "Russia has lost the moral right not to recognize us."
Mr. Medvedev's decision to formally recognize the two disputed areas in Georgia - an option long debated in Moscow's foreign policy circles - has had far-reaching consequences.
Tatarstan is not a peripheral state, and any decisions regarding it must take very seriously. Being bellicose and destructive -- burning down homes in a republic where the money is made is not an option here. Medvedev and Putin may have learned that running opposing policies so close to home has consequences.