Staunton, May 14 – The creation of the Southern Federal District strengthened an all-Russia identity in the region, but the establishment of the North Caucasus FD “seriously harmed” that process by unintentionally promoting a “North Caucasus” regional identity rather than “a southern Russian one, according to a Russian specialist on the region.
In an interview posted online yesterday, Viktor Chernousov, a researcher at the Black Sea Center of the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, argued that the North Caucasus FD had not solved any of the existing problems Moscow intended it to and had created new ones as well (riss.ru/index.php/analitika/1791-perspektivy-administrativno-territorialnogo-pereustrojstva-yuga-rossii#.UZIqL8o0EUN).
Despite some successes in anti-terrorist work, he says, “terrorism in the North Caucasus remains the main problem of the region.” There has been some economic improvement, but the region still requires enormous outside funding. And some of the models of economic development that have been used have “exacerbated many inter-ethnic problems.”
All of these problems could have been addressed just as well in the pre-existing Southern FD, Chernousov insists. Moreover, the carving out of the North Caucasus FD helped Georgia’s Mikhail Saakashvili and “radical ethno-nationalists” to set “the common-Caucasian identity of the peoples of the North Caucasus against Russian identity.”
That in turn, the researcher continued, made the ethnic Russian population of the area even more uncomfortable than it had been and contributed to the exodus of the ethnic Russian and Russian-language population and “to the further weakening of [non-ethnic] Russian identity.”
In Stavropol kray, the creation of the North Caucasus FD exacerbated Russian concerns, he observes, and has sparked demands that that multi-national territory be transformed “into a Russian or Slavic Republic or Terek oblast with a compact ethnic Russian, including Cossack, population.”
It is now common ground that the North Caucasus FD was created primarily to deal with “the problem of security” at the upcoming Sochi Olympiad. But the problems with this FD make further administrative-territorial transformations “practically inevitable,” despite the fact that changes will create new difficulties and thus won’t happen until after Sochi.
Meanwhile, various proposals are circulating, many of which would entail real dangers. In particular, there is a proposal to put Daghestan, Ingushetia, and Chechnya in a single Northeast Caucasus FD so as to deal with the terrorist challenge. But that would make the situation worse by “transforming this region into ‘an internal abroad of Russia,’” something that would promote further Islamization and Russian flight.
Another idea being floated, Chernousov says, would include in a single district Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia and North Osetia. That would not resolve the Circassian problem but rather increase calls for “the establishment of a single Circassian federal subject and a single Karachayevo-Balkar subject” as well.
And yet a third would fold into one FD Stavropol kray, Krasnodar kray, and Rostov oblast. Such an entity would be functional but its creation would weaken the influence of these “more developed” regions on the rest of the North Caucasus and make them even more attractive for immigrants from the North and South Caucasus.
All too often, the researcher says, Moscow draws lines on the basis of economic calculations alone failing to see that what it does will be affected by the ethnicity of the populations involved. It is important that the center not make that kind of mistake in the future especially in the current environment
“The disintegration of the USSR led to the segmentation of the region,” Chernousov says. “To give a new impulse to integrative processes, to defeat separatist Ichkeria, and to destroy the nest of international terrorism,” Moscow set up the Southern FD. It was relatively successful and would have been even more so had its leaders not been changed so often.
That is something the Russian government needs to recognize, he continues, along with a fact many in Moscow are not yet willing to: “market fundamentalism” as state policy means that “there are no administrative levers” to address many of the problems in the North Caucasus whatever borders are ultimately drawn.