Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Putin Backs Away from Budget Cuts for North Caucasus as Region Destabilizes

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 1 – Vladimir Putin today called on the Russian government to revisit its plans to cut subsidies to the North Caucasus, less because Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov complained about them than because the region in the judgment of experts is rapidly destabilizing and without money officials can do little to slow let alone stop that trend.

            In fact, Putin called on the government “to consider the possibility of increasing the extent of financing the state program of the Russian Federation on “The Development of the North Caucasus Federal District” in the coming years (spektr.press/news/2016/11/01/putin-poruchil-izuchit-vozmozhnost-uvelicheniya-finansirovaniya-severnogo-kavkaza/).

            Kadyrov very publicly complained about the cutbacks the Russian government has imposed (echo.msk.ru/blog/echomsk/1866060-echo/), and it is likely that Putin, who has often deferred to the Chechen leader, did not want to anger him just now as Moscow has taken away nearly a third of Kadyrov’s armed forces (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/291876/).

                But almost certainly a bigger reason for Putin to move to reverse the Russian government’s cutbacks are fears that the  budget cuts could contribute to the destabilization not just of Chechnya but of the North Caucasus as a whole.  If regional leaders lack funds, they can’t spend money to keep people from demonstrating. (For a discussion of this, see iarex.ru/articles/53212.html.)

            Evidence of that trend is to be found this week in neighboring Daghstan where a mass meeting occurred in front of government offices in the capital complaining about Makhachkala’s failure to provide needed funds (kavpolit.com/articles/mahachkala_bunt_sredi_chumy-29278/) and another protest of the mothers of the disappeared occurred as well (kavkazr.com/a/v-dagestane-na-miting-vyshli-materi-pohischennyh/28085574.html).

            If the regional and republic governments don’t have the resources to keep the population in line, then the only tool the regime will have will be armed force. But unless the amount of force Moscow employed were truly massive, this might be the equivalent of trying to douse a grease fire with water, something that will only spread the conflagration.

            Putin likely understands this – Kadyrov may even have explained it to him – even if the rest of the government in Moscow doesn’t recognize the problem.  But this pattern suggests that the consequences of the budget cutbacks in Russia as a result of the economic crisis may have a more serious impact than many imagine.

            And this impact will not be limited to the North Caucasus because if Putin decides he has to spend more money there, it will have to come from somewhere else, thus triggering the kind of conflicts among regions or between regions and the center that the Kremlin leader has done everything in his power to avoid in the past.


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