Monday, March 18, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Israeli Expert Proposes New Federal Districts for the North Caucasus

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 18 – No one is especially happy with the borders of Russia’s North Caucasus Federal District and at least one region, Stavropol, is currently seeking to leave it. No one in Moscow currently appears to have a plan for change, but an Israeli expert on the region is proposing what might be done to improve the situation.

            Because Vladimir Putin has called for the amalgamation of Russia’s federal subjects and because the federal district in which the North Caucasus republics have been changed twice over the last decade, the atmosphere for such proposals, even from abroad, is more favorable than it was when the author of this note suggested border changes for the South Caucasus in 1992.

            At the very least, the analysis behind this new proposal helps to clarify the nature of the problems in the region and the choices Moscow faces if it hopes to improve the administration of a region that remains anything but settled and one that it hopes to pacify before the Sochi Olympiad a year from now.

            In an article posted on on Friday, Avraam Shmulyevich suggests that senior officials in Moscow are well aware that “the existing administrative-territorial borders, especially in the North Caucasus, were drawn in Soviet times if not earlier, have exhausted themselves,” and need to be changed (

            Shmulyevich recounts the history of federal districts in the Russian Federation. Seven were created by President Vladimir Putin in May 2000 and then modified by his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, who carved the North Caucasus Federal district out of the Southern Federal District in January 2010.

            That district includes Daghestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, North Osetia-Alania, Chechnya and Stavropol kray and has as its center the city of Pyatigorsk. But its creation three years ago has satisfied no one, and it is clear, Shmulyevich argues, that “an optimal variant has still not been found.”

            Indeed, he suggests, it quickly became clear that the new district was “creating more problems than it was solving” and both officials and expert observers began to suggest that there must be “further reforms of the administrative-territorial borders” of the federal districts in general and “in the first instance,” those in the North Caucasus.

            That priority reflects the fact that the North Caucasus Federal District was created to “stabilize” the region and reduce the amount of violence there, but the situation has in fact developed in exactly the opposite direction, Shmulyevich argues. Consequently, it is time for a change, something that almost everyone now acknowledges.

            There are several reasons for this, he says. First, the new district was supposed to put the North Caucasus under the control of one man. But in fact, that region remains divided between to federal districts, and its diversity means that any attempt to impose a common answer to its various problems will backfire.

            Second, the borders of the North Caucasus Federal District are not congruent with those of the North Caucasus Economic Region which includes all the federal subjects of the NCFD plus the Kalmyk republic, Astrakhan oblast and Volgograd oblast.  Third, the geographic and political borders of the North Caucasus do not correspond either.

            Fourth, the NCFD consists of two very different parts, “’Russian’ Stavropol” and “’the national’ republics.” That has allowed greater migration from the non-Russian areas into Stavropol and exacerbated inter-ethnic tensions there, sparking both violence and ethnic Russian outmigration.

            Fifth, the NCFD divides the Terek and Kuban Cossack communities, Shmulyevich observers, creating problems for them and for Moscow. Sixth, the current arrangements further divide the already much-divided Circassian community, most of whose members are in the NCFD but some of whom, in Adygeya and Krasnodar are left outside.

            Seven, these divisions in turn have contributed to the growth of Islamist movements across the region. Eighth, the exclusion of Rostov oblast, Krasnodar kray and Adygeya from the NCFD has “created additional administrative problems” for that region. And ninth, the NCFD highlights the reality that the Russian authorities “do not see the [vast] differences between the Eastern and Western Caucasus,” something that Shmulyevich describes as “a strategic error.”

            The Israeli expert suggests that these differences in religious affiliation, ethnic homogeneity, Russian presence and economic activity should be the basis for the formation of two federal districts in the North Caucasus in place of the existing NCFD.

            The first of these, the West Caucasus Federal District (or possibly Azov-Black Sea FD) would include Rostov oblast, Krasnodar kray, Stavropol kray, Adygeya, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, and Osetia and could be centered Vladikavkaz Krasnodar, Maykop, Rostov or even Stavropol.

            Such a district would have “a high percentage of ethnic Russians, no deep Islamic traditions, religious diversity, and relative ethnic homogeneity” among the indigenous groups. And is economic potential would be based on industry, agriculture, and mountain resorts.

            The second, the Eastern Caucasus Federal District or possible Pri-Caspian FD, would include Ingushetia, Chechnya and Daghesan. It could have its center in Grozny, Makhachkala or possibly a new city or a rotating capital.  There would be “no Russians” in it, the populations would be strongly Islamic, and they would be ethnically diverse.

            Economically, Shmulyevich says, they would rely on oil production and the generation of electrical energy, communications, and some agriculture, especially in Daghestan.

            He suggests that this division would have “the following advantages” as compared to the current arrangements.  It would reduce or eliminate tensions arising from peoples living in divided areas. Thus, the Circassians would find themselves in a single FD something that “would reduce the sharpness of the problem of their administrative division” otherwise.

            Such an arrangement would unite “all the regions of the Caucasus where an ethnic Russian population remains,” reduce non-Russian immigration into Stavropol, “simply the position of Osetia,” and include the most Islamic republics, Ingushetia, Chechnya and Daghestan in a single FD which would make a single policy for them easier to design and implement.

            And all these things, Shmulyevich concludes, would allow Moscow to pursue “a more flexible policy in the region,” one that would be based on the differences between the eastern and western portions of the North Caucasus, thereby “increasing stability and the authority of the Federal Center in the Caucasus.”

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