Monday, October 10, 2016

North Caucasus Descending into New Round of Violence and Protest

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 10 – In the last ten days, the security situation in the North Caucasus has deteriorated badly both because of increased activity by militant groups, so-called “sleeper cells,” and the return of ISIS fighters from the Middle East and because of increased activity by Russian security forces.  As a result, the number of casualties has gone up.

            More worrisome still, ever larger portions of the local population are involved in protests against the actions of officials and their own increasingly difficult economic situation, a trend the authorities are generally meeting with force rather than dialogue.  (For a detailed survey of these developments, see

            And what is most alarming of all is that experts in the field like Aleksey Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center do not see any one cause that could be addressed to solve the situation or any way out of this deteriorating situation for Moscow in the foreseeable future (

            After an increase in tension and clashes in the region in 2011-2012, the North Caucasus became relatively quiet, with both the population on the one hand and the government force structures on the other backing off. But the authorities did nothing to change the underlying conditions and so a new outburst was inevitable, Malashenko says.

            Instead, during the last several years when things appeared to be calm, tensions were building up, even if no one wanted to talk about them. Both sides drew conclusions from this with the population deciding it could act with relative impunity and the authorities concluding that the time had come to crush their opponents forever.

            Now, the violence has intensified; and it is likely to continue for some time, the Moscow analyst says, adding that he is “very worried” about several possibilities, including the spread of these clashes “throughout Russia,” something that he suggests “cannot now be excluded.” And he is worried too about the impact of those returning from having fought for ISIS.

            Malashenko says that outside influence matters but so too do domestic conditions, and he urges that those examining the situation recognize that it is especially explosive given the difficult economic situation in which many of the people in the North Caucasus now find themselves.

            Those planning military actions against the militants or harsh repression against demonstrations by the population should recognize that in the current environment, there is a great risk that these things will make the situation worse not better, whatever some may have concluded only a few weeks or months ago.

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