Friday, December 26, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Can’t Hold North Caucasus Much Longer, Shmulyevich Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, December 26 – While the world is focused on developments in Ukraine and on Vladimir Putin’s increasingly aggressive approach to its neighbors, few have noticed that Moscow is rapidly losing any chance of retaining the North Caucasus within the borders of the Russian Federation, according to Israeli analyst Avraam Shmulyevich.


            Shmulyevich argues that “over the last 20 years, the Caucasus has been transformed into a typical colony,” one that the post-Soviet Russian government has not sought to integrate as the Soviets did but rather to ensure the metropole’s control of the region primarily by force and violence  (


            Instead of pacifying the region, Moscow’s approach has produced exactly the opposite. Across the North Caucasus, anti-Russian attitudes have intensified, Russians have fled, and “a full-scale partisan war under religious banners is continuing,” a war that the Russian force structures show no signs of being able to win.


            In many parts of the North Caucasus, people now live “not according to the laws of the Russian Federation” but according to Islamic shariat law. Chechnya under Kadyrov “does not have any relation to the constitutional system of Russia,” Daghestan has shariat courts almost everywhere.


            Thus, Shmulyevich says, as in many other colonies in the past, “during the day, power is in the hands of the federal forces, but at night in those of the Muslim partisans.”


            Despite being more powerful and more clever than Russia has been, neither Great Britain nor France were able to prevent such movements from driving them out of their colonies. “The process of decolonization is objective.”  In the past, the Kremlin might have been able to stem things by promoting genuine federalism and integration, but it has passed on those options.


            Now, “even if they wanted to become a federation,” the Russian authorities could not introduce it or make anyone believe that it would have real content, the Israeli analyst says. “For the last 20 years, the Russian hierarchy has talked a lot, but it has not carried out a single major project in this regard.”


            Many in the West still accept the notion that Russia is a “stabilizing force” in the North Caucasus, but this “does not correspond to reality,” Shmulyevich says. Instead, the situation is “exactly the opposite: all the destructive processes there have been made worse by the attempts of Moscow to resolve them.”


            This is not to say that there are not variations within the region. The situation in the Circassian republics, Adygeya, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Karachayevo-Cherkesiya, is different than in Daghestan, Chechnya, and Ingushetia. In the latter group, “there is already no Russian population” to hold thing together.  In the others, there is still a Russian anchor.


            The economy of the North Caucasus is in ruins, and ever more people in Moscow oppose sending good money after bad to try to fix it, limited only by the fact that so many Russian officials profit from skimming off funds intended to help people in the region. But their willingness to do so will decline as financial stringency increases and Russians flee.


            And that will only accelerate the process under which political Islam will become the unifying ideology of the region. Young people there are now joining the militants in increasing numbers because of the injustice and oppression they see all around them, just as their counterparts in other colonies have done.


            Consequently, those who speculate about the possibility of a new war in the North Caucasus are behind the curve. The partisan war there continues and “in its intensity, it is beginning to exceed those in Iraq and Afghanistan.” And the best evidence that this is the case come from the militants themselves, Shmulyevich says.


            They have told him, he notes, that “they are ready to take power, but they are not prepared to hold it.” They could not withstand a concerted military action to drive them from office, and therefore for the time being, they are “avoiding direct clashes,” seeking instead to strengthen themselves with the population and driving out federal representatives.


            Again, as Shmulyevich points out, just exactly as national liberation movements have behaved elsewhere in the colonial world.

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