Staunton, May 14 – Because the population of Siberia is so small and the influx of Central Asian and Caucasian workers there for the extraction industries so large, a Moscow commentator suggests, Russia is at risk of “losing Siberia” not to China as many Russian nationalists have long feared but to Islamist groups instead.
And while outcomes are highly improbable – Chinese citizens now form fewer than five percent of the population of the Russian Federation of the Urals, and Muslims from Central Asia and the Caucasus likely form an even smaller share – they are exactly the kind of apocalypticism which increasingly infects the Russian media and Russian society.
In a commentary on KM.ru yesterday, Aleksandr Romanov says that recent events in Surgut are neither normal everyday conflicts or “inter-ethnic” clashes but quite possibly an effort by “radical Islamists” to make Siberia into “a base” or even “a khalifate” for Wahhabis against Russia (km.ru/v-rossii/2013/05/13/migratsionnaya-politika-v-rossii/710589-rossiya-teryaet-sibir-i-zakhvatyat-ee-ne).
Three automobile columns organized by Central Asians and Caucasians in Siberian cities in the last week have sparked precisely this speculation, Romanov says, noting that the claims of the participants that they were only bringing gifts to children in orphanages are dubious and that officials have refused to provide explanations of what took place.
In this situation, the KM.ru journalist says, other journalists “began to compose their own versions and came to the conclusion that behind the automobile processions was concealed preparation for an inter-ethnic conflict” or even “an effort by local Wahhabis to establish their control over a wealth oil region and create on that basis a so-called ‘Tyumen khalifate’” (kp.ru/daily/26073.5/2980217/).
According to the account in “Komsomolskaya pravda,” local residents are fed up with the behavior of the Central Asian and Caucasian gastarbeiters in their region and have concluded that the Wahhabis have targeted it after Moscow and St. Petersburg for the creation of what they hope will become “a rear base of the Wahhabis.”
In what the author of that account says is a summary of homilies in local mosques, Muslim groups there see “Khanty-Mansiisk, Yamalo-Nenets, the Komi republic and part of Tyumen as a beautiful foundation for an Islamic state which sooner or later all the countries of the world will recognize. This state will be called Tyumenia.”
Such suggestions not only further exacerbate relations between ethnic Russians and the Muslim gastarbeiters, but they also provide yet another charge that Moscow officials can deploy against Siberian regionalists. After all, few ethnic Russians will support that movement if it can be presented as a kind of cover for an Islamist agenda.