Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Ethnic Problems Reflect Moscow’s Loss of Both Chechen Wars, Writer Says

Paul Goble

               Staunton, August 7 – Russia’s inter-ethnic problems, which have put the country “at the brink of a social explosion,” are first and foremost the result of Russia’s still unacknowledged loss of both post-1991 Chechen wars, according to a Russian blogger who points to four other reinforcing reasons as well.

               “It is perfectly obvious,” the author of the Yuri Blog writes in an extensive post last week, that Russia is in ever-greater difficulties and that a large part of this trend revolves around inter-ethnic relations, however much Moscow officials or experts try to deny or argue otherwise  (

               Some Russians are inclined to explain ethnic conflicts by trying to decide whether there are “good people from the Caucasus” or “bad ones.”  But the real question is otherwise, he suggests, “why is this happening? Why are xenophobia and inter-ethnic hostility spreading across Russia like a plague?”

               The first cause, the blogger suggests, is what he calls “the victors’ syndrome.”  It is time for Russians to stop deceiving themselves and acknowledge that “Russia lost both Chechen wars.”  Russia is paying tribute not Chechnya, and Chechnya not Russia is determining policy in the region. And those are the two key measures of what constitutes victory and what defeat.

               The blogger stresses that in such situations, the victors regardless of nationality inevitably behave with contempt to the vanquished.

               The second cause, he suggests, involved the Caucasian mentality. Again, this is not a question of whether that mentality is “good or bad,” but whether it is “different.”  And the evidence is that the mentality of people from the Caucasus is different from that of the ethnic Russians.

               People from the Caucasus “respect only force,” and consequently, when they can display it themselves with impunity, they are inclined to do so.  Moreover, he suggests, people from the Caucasus do not view bribes in the same way. Russians are angry and ashamed about bribery, but people from the Caucasus simply view it was a normal cost of doing business.

               These two causes alone, the blogger says, are “completely sufficient” to explain why inter-ethnic problems are not going to quiet down in Russia but rather grow “in geometrical progress” not “day by day but by the hour.” But he continues, there are three other causes which further exacerbate the problem.

               The third cause of the country’s inter-ethnic problems, the blogger continues, is to be found in the Russian mentality. “The problem is not only in them: the problem is in us as well,” he says.  Russians have often wanted someone to rule over them, but now they have a leadership that isn’t interested in doing even that.

               Indeed, he writes, the Russian people are as necessary to the current occupants of the Kremlin as “an aqualung is to a camel.” Instead of uniting Russians, it is intent on dividing them and as a result, Russians have landed in a situation where it is every man “for himself” rather than for the nation.

               This “slavishness,” the blogger continues, has the effect of “provoking” people from the North Caucasus. Thus, it is the Russians and not the North Caucasians who are “guilty” of the way in which the North Caucasians treat the Russians.  Expecting that to change overnight, he says, is like “hoping to in a million dollars in a lottery!”

               The fourth cause is the corruption of the Russian police. Even if one could imagine “for a minute” that Russians and Caucasians could “by some fantastic means find a common language,” the corruption of those in the force structures is so great that the problems would not disappear.

               Russia is a world leader in the size of its police per capita, but the way in which the police are recruited – a perfect example of “negative selection” – means that the forces of order will produce anything but. The police feel they can do anything, but they are most interested in using their position to enrich themselves rather than enforce any particular law.

               That plays to the strengths of the North Caucasians and the weakness of the ethnic Russians, and there is little chance that will change anytime soon.

               And the fifth cause, the blogger says, lies with the double standards of the Kremlin itself.  “Even [the other four causes] wouldn’t be fatal” if it weren’t for the problems at the top, for whom “the Russian people is something extraneous” and with which these leaders do not “connect the future of their children.”

               Vladimir Putin relies on the corrupt force structures to block any domestic challenge and relies on the leaders of the Caucasus to whom he pays tribute to provide him with the votes to win elections -- even with “146 percent” if that is necessary. But now those two forces are at loggerheads, and the Russian president is in trouble.

               He can’t continue to rely on the corrupt siloviki who are asking what are we fighting for, the blogger says, and he can’t rely on the people of the Caucasus to “defend [him] from the people.” And yet he has to find some way out or his own position will become untenable as more and more ethnic clashes spread across the country.

               According to the blogger, even Putin “who has lost a sense of reality” now is beginning to “understand that things cannot continue as they have up to now.” But he and his entourage do not really understand the full dimensions of the problem, as their “playing at a certain ‘Empire’” shows.

               The reason that won’t work, the blogger says, is that “it is not the Caucasus which is a colony of Russia,” but rather “Russia which already long ago was converted into a colony of the Caucasus,” a situation which recalls Rome in the fifth century and which could end in much the same way.

               In this situation, there is only “one way out,” the blogger says, and that is “divorce.”  Russia “now must free itself from the Caucasus” as the only means of saving the country “from the metropolitan center” which is now not Russia but the Caucasus, however unpleasant it is for Russians to reflect upon that reality of their losses to the Chechens.

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