Staunton, October 5 – Ethnic Russians and Cossacks have seen their share of the population in many parts of the North Caucasus decline significantly over the past three decades, the result of outmigration driven by poverty and terrorism and demographic differences between the ethnic Russians and Cossacks and the indigenous population.
The former are older, have higher mortality rates and lower fertility rates than the latter, and as a result, they feel ever less comfortable in places where instead of being a major component of the population enjoying the support of officials, they have become a smaller fraction and no longer can count on the backing of the powers that be.
Nowhere, perhaps, has this decline in the share of Russians and non-Russians in the population of a North Caucasus region than in northern Daghestan, where officials say it has fallen from approximately 80 percent in 1990 to only 19 to 25 percent in the various districts there.
Now, observers say, the coronavirus is accelerating Russian and Cossack flight given that many local people do not wear masks or maintain social distancing, that medical facilities are overloaded with coronavirus cases, and Russians and Cossacks fear they are likely to become victims of the pandemic (apn.ru/index.php?newsid=38682).
If the Russian and Cossack share of the population drops further, it is almost certain that the local population will feel empowered. They will be less likely to defer to Russians, including those like the new head of Daghestan Moscow has dispatched. That will mean that Moscow will have to use more force to get its way, a move that itself is likely to be counterproductive.
On the one hand, Moscow lacks the number of siloviki to garrison the entire region permanently. And on the other, even if it does insert more troops in more places, Russians and Cossacks are unlikely to be entirely reassured; and local non-Russians are certain to be furious and increasingly willing to listen to radicals.
That will make northern Daghestan and likely other regions as well ungovernable as far as Moscow is concerned, something that radicals will exploit and that in the near future means that the central government will either have to find ways to reach out to the population or face the prospect that the region will de facto not be part of the common Russian legal space.