Monday, April 7, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Fall Off in Anti-Caucasian Media Stories Reflects Not Only Ukrainian Events but Shift in Kremlin’s Plans, Kurbanov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 7 – One of the consequences of the propaganda campaign against Kyiv that has accompanied Vladimir Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea and moves elsewhere in Ukraine is that it has displaced the anti-Caucasus theme in the Russian media that had so animated Russians until very recently, according to Ruslan Kurbanov.

            On the one hand, this probably comes as no surprise given that the media only have so much time and space to devote to anything and thus a focus on one issue makes it difficult to cover others.  On the other, it highlights the way in which the Russian media exacerbate or even create issues and then drop them when the Kremlin directs its attention to something new.

            But on a deeper level, Kurbanov, a senior scholar at the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, says, it reflects the displacement as well of a specifically ethnic Russian national agenda, one prepared to let the North Caucasus go, by a more imperialistic Kremlin agenda that wants to hold on to everything it has and take more (

            Some people in the Caucasus are delighted at “the cessation of the information bombardment in the Caucasus direction” since the Ukrainian crisis began, he says, but they should be concerned because the media shift appears to reflect not just the news cycle but something more fundamental and not necessarily in the interests of the region.

            It is likely, he says, that this shift will be obscured in the near term when “the hysteria around Ukraine dies down” and Caucasians again become the targets of the media, but it needs to be clearly understood just what is going on.

            Kurbanov cites a recent “Vedomosti” article by Ramazan Alpaut who says that many in the Russian elite have been pleased to play up the image of the Caucasians as enemies and threats because this allows the regime to avoid having to explain “why there is up to now such a high level of corruption, unemployment, infant and child mortality, drug abuse, and alcoholism.”

            For all these things, the Russian media has been prepared to blame the Caucasians, Alpaut says. But the demonization of the people of the North Caucasus highlights the absence in Russia of “a single political nation” and has led at least some in the elite to think that Russia might be better off without that region and all its troubles.

            Despite presidential plenipotentiary Aleksandr Khloponin’s efforts to explain why the North Caucasus is “so important for Russia,” Kurban continues, among many in Moscow “close to the powers that be,” the view of the North Caucasus and its role has been very different and far more negative.

                Various people from Gleb Pavlovsky to Sergey Kurginyan to Stanislav Belkovsky to Vladimir Zhirnovsky and even to some in the country’s security services have talked about the value of splitting off the North Caucasus from Russia and treating the republics there like South Osetia and Abkhazia, as “mini-satellites” but beyond the borders of the Russian Federation.

            Some have even associated people around Dmitry Medvedev with this idea, Kurbanov says, and that is one of the reasons that Kremlin ideologist Aleksandr Dugin has criticized the former president and current prime minister so harshly, apparently fearful of what cutting off the North Caucasus could lead to.

            Until very recently, however, it certainly appeared that “the will to integrate the Caucasus had died among a significant part of the Russian elite. And it had died just as other “super-national” ideologies had because Russians were tired of what they saw as the burden they continued to carry and even wanted their own ethnically Russian state.

            And such a shift became possible, Kurbanov continues, because until the Ukrainian crisis, “for Russians the former challenges from the US, NATO and the West had passed” and no longer defined their lives. But with the Maidan and then the Russian intervention in Crimea, that past returned in the minds of many, and that points to “a new agenda for the Caucasus.”

            Maintaining and extending the borders of the Russian Federation against these threats is now the order of the day, and that means, Kurbanov argues, that constant attacks on people from the Caucasus are counterproductive.  But not talking about the Caucasus does nothing to solve the problems of that region or its integration into the Russian Federation.

            Not only is there likely to be a new explosion of activism by ethnic Russians in the North Caucasus who will be encouraged to make demands for Moscow’s intervention after the fashion of Russian moves in Crimea, but there will be “a new awakening” of the region “under ethnic banners” both as a result of that and because of underlying and still unaddressed causes.

            Very soon, Kurbanov suggests, “all these problems will rise before Moscow and the Caucasus several times more sharply than they are today.” If those concerned about the Caucasus and the Russian Federation don’t use this time out from anti-Caucasus propaganda productively, he concludes, they may not get another chance.

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