- By Robbie GramerRobbie Gramer is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. He writes for The Cable, FP’s real-time take on all things, well, foreign policy. Before he joined FP in 2016, he used to think in a tank, managing the NATO portfolio at the Atlantic Council for three years. He’s a graduate of American University’s School of International Service, where he studied international relations and European affairs. He has lived in both Washington and Brussels, though he grew up in Idaho and Oregon, so he’s a West Coaster at heart. When he’s not busy reporting, he’s probably busy starting three new books before he has finished the last one or planning a trip to a national park he hasn’t visited yet., Emily TamkinEmily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. She writes for FP’s The Cable, a real-time take on the news in Washington and the wider world. She has been at FP since the fall of 2016, before which she was an associate editor at New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. She has a B.A. in Russian literature from Columbia University, an M.Phil. in Russian and East European studies from the University of Oxford, and studied Soviet dissidence in archival centers in Moscow, Tbilisi, and, on a Fulbright, in Bremen — all of which means that at FP, she writes when she can on Russia and Central and Eastern Europe.
What do you do when you’re the leader of a U.S. secessionist movement losing support because you’re backed by Russia? If you’re California’s Louis Marinelli, you give up and decide to settle in Russia.
The Yes California Independence Campaign is not the only secession movement with suspected Kremlin support (Russian backing, like the stars, shines bright deep in the heart of Texas), but it is the one Marinelli championed. But backers of Yes California were put off by its ties to Russia, which seemed especially shady given that Marinelli’s physical whereabouts were unclear during the campaign. And so they pulled the proverbial plug. As the Sacramento Bee reported, “Organizers said they want to make a clean break from any push tainted by perceived links to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.”
“I have found in Russia a new happiness, a life without the albatross of frustration and resentment towards ones’ [sic] homeland, and a future detached from the partisan divisions and animosity that has thus far engulfed my entire adult life,” Marinelli wrote in a letter to his supporters on Monday, referring to the Golden State as “occupied California.”
In a December interview with Russia’s RT, everyone’s favorite state-backed news outlet, Marinelli said his strategy was to court countries with U.N. Security Council veto power, namely Russia and China, to recognize the movement even if Washington and its allies rejected it. Russian nationalists, who’ve made a hobby out of supporting secessionist movements in Europe, were happy to oblige. That month, Marinelli established a makeshift “Embassy of the Independent Republic of California” in Moscow. He’s been there ever since, but now wants to make Russia his official home.
“If the people of Russia would be so kind as to welcome me here on a permanent basis, I intend to make Russia my new home,” he wrote. No word yet on whether the Kremlin will be so kind.
But fear not, California independence supporters. He said when California gains its independence, he will return “to live once again under our bear flag.”
And Ruiz Evans, Yes California’s now former vice president, is joining the California Freedom Coalition, another Calexit political group, and hopes to file a new proposal for Californian nationhood by the end of the month — one without any Russian baggage. Evans believes his movement would have more money and backing if people weren’t worried about ties to Russia.
Setting Kremlin hijinks aside, the movement still has some numbers issues to sort out. Per state rules, the California Freedom Coalition needs 585,000 signatures to qualify for a ballot measure on independence. Yes California only has 97,463 registered supporters.
While Evans plots another campaign from his new digs, Marinelli will remain the leader of Yes California from, yes, Russia.
“Until then I will continue to serve as the representative of the Republic of California to Russia,” he concluded, not clarifying who gave him this authority or what the role would actually entail.
Photo credit: MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images