Saturday, January 21, 2017

FSB Overplays Its Hand in Circassian Affairs, Freezing Out Diaspora but Weakening Moscow’s Influence Abroad

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 21 – Ethnic and émigré politics often appear murky to outsiders, but ethnic émigré politics, especially when the intelligence service of a major power gets involved, are murkier still. But keeping track of such developments is important because they say far more about the direction that power is heading than they do about the ethnic group involved.

            That is especially the case with the FSB’s involvement with groups involving the Circassian nation, one numbering more than a half a million in the North Caucasus and more than five million in the countries of the Middle East and one that has challenged Moscow over the 1864 genocide and the right of Circassians from Syria to return to their historical homeland.

            The last few months have been particularly full of events which say a lot about Moscow’s hopes and fears and which suggest that with regard to the Circassian movement, the FSB has overplayed its hand, reducing the diaspora’s impact on the North Caucasus but at the cost of weakening Moscow’s influence in Turkey and the Middle East.

            This complex game is described by Inal Kardnov on the Caucasus Times portal yesterday ( Because of FSB actions, he says, Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria has ceased to be the heart of the international Circassian movement and the International Circassian Association (ICA) near dissolution.

            Last month, KAFFED, the Federation of Turkish Circassians, decided to withdraw from the ICA after Russian border guards deported Yashar Aslankay, the vice president of the ICA and the president of KAFFED, and prohibited him from entering the Russian Federation until 2020.

            Circassians were perplexed by this Russian decision given that KAFFED has been viewed by the Circassians of Turkey as a pro-Russian organization, Kardnov says.  The explanation seems to be that Moscow took this action not only to curry favor with Turkey but also to freeze out the influence of the diaspora on the North Caucasus.

            But whatever the facts are, this sequence had the effect of highlighting for all Circassians the role of the Russian special services in the ICA, a role that extends back to the period when that group was founded in 1991 and one that means the ICA has been under “the total control” of the FSB, Kardnov says.

            The clearest evidence of this, he continues, is the following fact: “the last four ICA presidents were imposed on the delegates under the threat of deportation” from Russia if they did not vote as Moscow wanted. The FSB increased its pressure on the ICA during the conflict between Moscow and Ankara over the latter’s shooting down of a Russian warplane.

            And this pressure from Moscow increased even more with the outbreak of the Syrian conflict given that Circassians from the war zone wanted to return to their historical homeland in the North Caucasus but were blocked by Russian government opposition, something that radicalized Circassian opinion and forced the FSB to tighten control over ICA leaders.

            The FSB had no trouble achieving that, but in doing so, it underscored the way in which the leadership of the ICA was out of touch with the Circassians it claimed to lead, nearly all of whom favored the return of Syrian Circassians to the North Caucasus. And that in turn led to what Kardnov describes as “the final collapse of the ICA’s authority.”

            The FSB tried to shore up that part of the leadership that was loyal to Moscow not only by purging those in it who weren’t sufficiently supportive of the Russian line but also by organizing an international conference on the Circassian question last month. But many Circassians refused to take part in what they viewed as a pro-Russian sham show.

            The Russian special service may have achieved its goal of ensuring that the ICA leadership will follow any twist and turn in Kremlin policy but it has done so only at the cost of leaving that organization a hollow shell with little influence at home or abroad.  And that in turn means that Moscow’s influence on and through the Circassians will only continue to fall.


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