Thursday, January 10, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Do North Caucasians See Their Future Within or Outside the Russian Federation?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 10 – A new collective monograph prepared under the direction of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences says that “an absolute majority of the population of the North Caucasus does not see itself otherwise than within the borders of the Russian Federation despite all the mistakes” Moscow has made there.

            Igor Kosikov, a senior scholar at the institute who headed the collective of 18 authors, many from the North Caucasus, presented the new book to the media yesterday.  Entitled “The Republics of theNorth Caucasus: The Ethno-Political Situation and Relation with the Federal Center” (in Russian, Moscow: MAKS Press, 504 pages) (

            According to the Moscow scholar, the involvement of researchers from each of the North Caucasus republics provide a broader and deeper assessment of developments in the region than is typically available but one that “does not always coincide with the alarmist point of view that has arisen as it is customary to say ‘within the Garden Ring’” – that is the Moscow leadership.

            On the one hand, many people in that group think that Moscow is subsidizing the North Caucasus more heavily than it is other regions. But in fact, the central government gives per capita subsidies to Kamchatka Kray that are more than 20 percent higher than those it provides to Ingushetia, the most subsidized of the North Caucasus republics.

            And on the other, per capita GDP is in fact rising in the North Caucasus, not falling as many believe. In 2008, per capita GDP there stood at 79,500 rubles (2600 US dollars), but in 2011, it had risen to “more than 112,000 rubles (3700 US dollars), an increase in percentage terms similar to other regions in the Russian Federation.

            While the new book’s basic conclusion is that the majority of the population of the North Caucasus “does not see itself otherwise than within the Russian Federation,” Kostikov continued, no one should think that everything is fine. There are still forces in the region seeking the establishment of “an independent Islamic state” and thus those who “want to live within Russia do not feel themselves secure.”
            That will change, he suggested, only if Moscow develops and carries out “a long-term, systematic and strategic” policy “directed toward the achievement of the specific goal of the gradual resolution of the problems of the North Caucasus.
            But with the Sochi Olympics less than two years away, others say, Moscow has adopted a short-term approach, one based on heavy use of the armed forces, throwing money at the problem, and relying on local leaders who promise to be loyal to the Kremlin above all else. Moreover, some in Moscow appear to be promoting the continuation rather than the end of the conflicts in the region.

            A lead article in the Swiss newspaper “Tages Anzeiger” yesterday noted that Moscow has recently sent 30,000 troops to Daghestan alone and that the North Caucasus is eating up “a quarter” of Russia’s military budget despite the fact that the region constitutes “only one percent of the territory of the country” (;

            As a result, tahe paper said, the region has become Moscow’s “Achilles’ heel,” an interpretation that some Russian commentators have picked up on as well ( And others are asking whether things are likely to deteriorate there in 2013.

            According to a report on the “Svobodnaya pressa” portal, some local activists say that the cause of conflict in the North Caucasus lies not with the residents of that region but with Moscow.  Abas Kebedov, a former member of the Social Chamber of Daghestan, says that some senior Muscovites want the conflict to continue (

            Kebedov says that a Daghestani professor told him about an encounter the latter had had with a Russian general in a Moscow bathhouse in which the Daghestani had told the officer that it was time to end the fighting in his republic. The general reportedly responded: “Who will allow you to stop the war? Without it, I’d still be a pathetic lieutenant colonel, but now I’m a general with five apartments in Moscow.”

            Former Ingushetian prime minister Akhmed Malsagov also placed the blame on Moscow, arguing that its policies were responsible for the problems. “If the federal center wants to establish order, then it must choose normal leaders of the regions” who will do their job and not simply demonstrate loyalty to the Kremlin and steal from the population.”

            Avraam Shmulyevich, an Israeli expert on the Caucasus who writes frequently for Moscow web portals, says that the next 18 months could be explosive.  Moscow has decided on a “final pre-Olympic cleansing” of the region, using both carrots and sticks to get its way (

            On the one hand, he says, the Russian authorities are prepared to come to terms with some Islamist groups and are prepared to spend 800 million US dollars over the next 12 years to stabilize the situation. But on the other, he suggests, they have decided to make no concessions to the Circassians and their protests about the Olympics.

            The result of these policies, Shmulyevich says, will not work in Moscow’s favor. It will not only further “alienate the Caucasus from the rest of the Russian Federation” but will lead to “a growth in tensions among the North Caucasus peoples and the growth in the number of internl conflicts.”

            Those trends will make it “ever more difficult” for Moscow to control the situation if it continues its current course of “still greater financial infusions and the introduction of still larger number of forces.”  Only “a complete shift of the paradigm of relations between Moscow and the national borderlands,”  one allowing peoples of the entire Caucasus to decide on their own what their fate is to be.

No comments:

Post a Comment