Staunton, December 13 – Russia has always been a centralized state, but the current wave of hyper-centralization, itself the direct result of Moscow’s misreading of the Chechen war, is leading to popular anger, legal nihilism, and thus itself is now a threat to the country as a whole, according to Shamil Beno, who served as a senior Chechen official in the 1990s.
The former Chechen foreign minister says that the strategy Moscow adopted as a result of its experiences in Chechnya means that the majority of regions in the Russian Federation have “not so much lost the right to take decisions as the sense that they can do anything independently at all” (profile.ru/rossiya/item/89752-podi-skazhi-russkim-chto-rossiya-eto-i-moya-strana-tozhe).
“The logical result of this strategy,” he suggests, “was the creation of federal ministries ‘for particular territories,’” a step that is “administrative nonsense” because bureaucrats in Moscow do not and even cannot know how to deal with local problems and therefore take decisions which make things worse.
For example, he continues, the Moscow bureaucrats think that the way to deal with religious radicalism is to propagandize Russian patriotism and the traditional cultural values of the peoples of the North Caucasus, to use force to suppress dissent, and to create more jobs and better opportunity.
The list sounds good, but even if everything on it were to be carried out 100 percent, that would not solve the problem because its component parts “do not take into consideration the nature of the phenomenon at which they are addressed.” In short, all this activity can do is “lower the temperature” but not “cure the disease itself.”
Consider the notion of promoting Russian patriotism, Beno says. Different people have different pasts, and trying to get them to accept only one version isn’t going to work. “How is anyone going to convince North Caucasians to celebrate General Yermolov? Or to convince peoples subject to genocide that Stalin was a worthy leader of the USSR?”
Perhaps such things would be possible “if you were able to convince Jews to put up a monument to Hitler and the Russians to put up one to the Mongol khan.”
But the situation is even more complicated than that. If Moscow pushed for the restoration of traditional values, then it has to agree to the restoration of customary law. And that “directly contradicts [Moscow’s] strategy of the unification of legal codes.” And using force against dissent won’t cure extremism: it will make it worse.
The only thing that has saved the situation so far, Beno argues, is that the North Caucasus is a relatively small part of the Russian Federation. If President Vladimir Putin wants to achieve something, he should study what King Hussein was able to do with very different policies in Jordan. But that would require a wholesale shift in Moscow’s approach.
Moscow’s economic development ideas are equally misplaced, Beno says. North Caucasus mountaineers are “hospitable,” but “not servile.” They will never work out as servants to visiting Russians. And if they won’t, how do the bureaucrats in Moscow plan to develop a tourist industry there? By bringing in Indians and Pakistanis?
And although building technology centers might work, Moscow is subverting even those by adopting the principle that “anyone who is not with us is against us” and thus alienating those it is supposed to be working with and for rather than integrating them as such technology centers are supposed to do.
But Moscow’s problem is bigger than the North Caucasus, Beno says. He pointed out that he “does not see the outlines of ‘a Russian project.’” There is, of course, talk about Eurasianism and a “Russian world,” but it all seems part of the winding down of the “Russian empire” project rather than something new.
That winding down began “all of 90 years ago,” a blink of the eye in historical terms. But if Moscow tries to make its new project a genuinely ethnic Russian one, then it will be “complicated to integrate the Chechens in it” and combine “our autarchy with Russian community.”
The danger that Moscow would eventually move in that direction was laid, like a delayed action bomb, in the text of the 1993 Constitution where the Russian Federation and Russia were declared to be the same thing. But “Russia in the understanding of Russians is their country.” What they fail to see is that the country belongs to Chechens too.
A Russian world project thus “presupposes either the assimilation of the peoples living on the territory of the Russian Federation of the provision of real content to federalism or a rollback to feudalism, to relations of ‘suzerain’ and ‘vassal.’” And there is “an alternative: a change in the special outline of the country.”
“What path will the process take?” Beno asks rhetorically. And he notes “if one starts from the trends noted today, then all these paths are still open.”