Staunton, September 6 – Despite the widespread belief in Russia and the West that Moscow is “a stabilizing factor” in the North Caucasus, an Israeli expert says, Moscow’s policies are in fact destabilizing the situation there and contributing to the rapidly approaching end of Russian rule over the region.
In an analysis posted this week on APN.ru, Avraam Shmulyevich, one of the most thoughtful commentators on developments in the North Caucasus, argues that the depth of Russia’s problems in that region is reflected in its decision to launch a new PR effort there rather than to try to come up with new policies (apn.ru/publications/article29992.htm).
Last week, Russian officials announced the creation of a new Center for Contemporary Caucasian Policy, yet another channel like Sochi and the tourism industry for corruption, to try to improve the image of the region in Russian and foreign media, an effort that Shmulyevich says almost certainly won’t work.
“The Russian authorities are desperate,” he continues, because instead of worrying about imagery by itself, they should be adopting policies that would make themselves look better, creating a corruption-free judicial system, an effective administrative structure, and political arrangements that would reflect the interests of the population rather than corrupt elites.
The Kremlin “cannot do this by definition,” the Israeli analyst says. “The Russian power vertical is absolutely ineffective and is capable only of giving rise to new problems. As a result, “Russia is not in a position to hold on to the Caucasus and in a very short time will be forced leave from there.”
The reason for that perhaps unsettling conclusion, Shmulyevich says, is that “in the post-Soviet period, the North Caucasus has been converted into a colony,” toward which unlike in Soviet times, Moscow has not promoted any schemes of integration. As a result, Russia’s control of this colony will end just as the colonies of other metropoles have.
As many forget, a colony “is not always a region out of which the metropolitan center extracts resources.” Often the center has to pay. Instead, “a colony is a territory sharply differentiated from the metropolitan center by national and (or) religious composition of the population which belongs to a different control, is politically administered from the center and is economically dependent on it.”
Today, “only one thing” is holding the North Caucasus back from leaving Russia: “the lack of alternatives.” The West and many in Russia assume that “if Russia leaves from the North Caucasus, a bloody civil war will begin or Islamists of the Taliban variety will come to power,” neither of which is a desirable outcome.
Indeed, “today Russia has an indulgence from the West for any actions in the Caucasus” because it doesn’t “see” any alternative to Russian force there. But that view reflects a failure to understand the situation: Russia lacks any nationality policy, its approach reflects only “inertia and reaction,” and its actions are creating more problems than they are solving.
If that doesn’t change, then Russia will leave the Caucasus and quite soon, regardless of what the Kremlin or anyone else wants. That outcome is “inevitable” because “when an individual commits suicide, he dies. The Russian authorities today in the Caucasus are committing suicide.”
The North Caucasus has been degraded by Russian actions. It wasn’t always a region that needed outside investment. It wasn’t always a place where partisan war under religious banners occurred. And it wasn’t always a place where many live under shariat law. All that happened, Shmulyevich says, because Moscow adopted such mistaken policies.
Those policies have filled the pockets of Moscow bureaucrats and local elites, but they have done nothing to address the strategic challenges the North Caucasus represents. Russia has been a much less effective colonial power than England or France: they lost their empires, and so Moscow will lose its.
It is time, he says, for the West to recognize that “all the destructive processes” in that region are “the result of attempts by Moscow” to resolve them, that Moscow is not a stabilizing force, and that the rise of aggressive Islamism in the region is the result of Moscow’s policies not something Moscow is effectively fighting against.