Staunton, April 14 – While Russians have been focusing on Ukraine, the situation in the North Caucasus has deteriorated in two important ways, according to Maya Astvatsaturova. On the one hand, disputes of any kind are increasingly invested with ethnic meaning. And on the other, young people are better armed and ready to use guns in these disputes than before.
In a commentary for Nazaccent.ru, Astvatsaturova, director of the Center for Ethno-Political Research at the Pyatigorsk State Language University, says that although the situation in the region is “under control,” there is “a hidden conflict generating potential” which no one should ignore (nazaccent.ru/column/102/ and nazaccent.ru/column/103/).
While there has been “a strengthening of all-Russian civic patriotism which has overcome ethno- and religious-centric views” in portions of the region, the regional expert argues, challenges and risks which “violate both the social-political and social-economic stability in the region.”
The main source of such destabilizing activity, Astvatsaturova says, “remains the activity of illegal terrorist structures, extremist national-religious cells and illegal armed formations.” Moreover, ISIS has “strengthened its influence on Muslim communities including local North Caucasian ones.” And it is increasingly cooperating with the Caucasus Emirate.’
She suggested that this trend is most in evidence in Chechnya and Daghestan.
Astvatsaturova’s comments came in what has been a wave of critical reaction among experts to the assertion of Sergey Melikov, the new presidential plenipotentiary for the North Caucasus, that “there are no inter-ethnic conflicts in the North Caucasus” and that “all problems have social-economic causes.”
She says that the experts and the plenipotentiary have now reached “a compromise” definition of the situation, according to which, “the inter-ethnic conflicts which took place in the 1990s do not now exist and that in reality, there are none today and the situation on the whole is under control.”
But like her colleagues, she argues that there is the potential for new conflicts, that all of them will be invested with ethnic meaning, and that given the availability of fire arms and the willingness of young people to use them, they are likely to be more rather than less violent than in the past.
Nationalism in the North Cacuasus, the scholar continues, takes the form of negative ethnic stereotypes and dissatisfaction between Russians and non-Russians, between Russians and Caucasians, and between North Caucasians and other North Caucasians. Especially sharp in recent times have been ethnic issues involving the Circassians, the Russians, the Chechens-Akintsy, the peoples of Daghestan and also the Kabardinians and Balkars.