Staunton, September 11 – Many observers were surprised that Muslims in Russia staged demonstrations to protest the mistreatment of Muslims in Myanmar, and others believe the issue is over following mass arrests in St. Petersburg and Ramzan Kadyrov’s call to end such protests (echo.msk.ru/blog/echomsk/2052900-echo/ and novayagazeta.ru/news/2017/09/11/135166-kadyrov-prizval-ne-ustraivat-mitingi-v-podderzhku-musulman-myanmy).
But no one should have been surprised by the protests because they were never about Myanmar, and no one should think that the danger of Muslim activism has passed, according to various Russian analysts with whom Ruslan Gorevoy of the Novaya Versiya portal spoke (versia.ru/s-kem-vy-musulmanskie-aktivisty-i-sleduet-li-nam-vas-boyatsya).
Gorevoy himself suggests that Muslims from the North Caucasus were ready to take up the cudgels against the Buddhist regime in Myanmar is because Russia’s Muslims have longstanding grievances against the Buddhists in Russia and especially those in Kalmykia, a Buddhist republic which adjoins the North Caucasus.
Relations between the Kalmyks and the Chechens have long been tense, Gorevoy says, pointing to such recent examples as “the Elista pogroms last spring when a Daghestani athlete desecrated a statue of Buddha” and earlier clashes between the two religious groups when Chechens desecrated a Kalmyk cemetery in Astrakhan.
To be sure, “the number of victims of clashes in Kalmykia and in Myanmar are incomparable -- if it is in fact appropriate to compare them. People have died, and it isn’t critical whether there were 25 as in Kalmykia or 400 as in Myanmar,” the Novaya Versiya journalist argues.
What matters, he says, is that in contrast to the past, when no North Caucasian leader would talk about the Buddhist Kalmyks as an enemy, Kadyrov is now quite ready to do so in the case of the Myanmar Buddhists. But both he and his listeners are aware of the link. (See windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2017/09/moscow-bears-major-responsibility-for.html).
But Kadyrov had other axes to grind, Gorevoy continues. He wanted to underscore his ties with Saudi Arabia, he wanted to demonstrate that he is a power to be reckoned with so that Moscow would not, as it again threatened to do at the end of August, cut his subsidies, and he wanted to show himself a power among Russia’s Muslims and the Islamic community abroad.
The demonstration at the Myanmar embassy and even more the meeting in Grozny showed, orientalist Anatoly Nesmiyan says, that “there exists in the country an organized force which has resources that are not under the control of the [central] authorities” and that these resources can be deployed otherwise “if required.”
Kadyrov will be loyal to Moscow and Putin as long as the center provides him with funding and support, the analyst continues, but if either appears to be weakening, then the Chechen leader is quite willing to demonstrate his independent power base among the Muslims of Chechnya and the North Caucasus in particular and across Russia more generally.
Lev Vershinin, another Moscow political analyst, agrees and says that Kadyrov is completely uninterested the issue of Muslims in Myanmar. He has simply used them as an occasion to build up support in the North Caucasus by taking a stand against Buddhism in general and thus the Kalmyks.
And the Chechen leader has also shown that he understands that he can gain influence by solidifying his friendship with the Saudi Arabians and also by demonstrating his ability to organize protests to challenge Kazan not only for the religious leadership of Russia’s Muslims but also for their secular leadership.