Friday, December 30, 2016

But It’s Not in Moscow: 2016 Saw Far More Protests and Repression Beyond the Ring Road

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 30 – The last 12 months saw more public protests in Daghestan than ever before and more repression in Russian-occupied Crimea than at any time since the Soviet period; but because these develop ments don’t not correspond to Moscow’s narrative and took place far beyond the Russian capital’s ring road, they have attracted little attention.

            In a commentary on the Kavkazskaya politika portal today, journalist Lyudmila Magomedova says that 2016 will go down in history as “a year of kidnappings, suffering and maternal tears and also as “a record one in terms of the number of meetings, pickets, and other protest actions” (

            Most of these actions – and she provides remarkable details about many of them – came in response to policies imposed on the population by the republic leadership at Moscow’s insistence, thus making them truly opposition actions even if neither the participants nor the republic leadership chose to identify them in that way.

            Republic head Ramazan Abdulatipov admitted as much when he acknowledged during an interview with Moscow media that his “anti-terrorist work has disturbed people” but that such problems are as noting “compared to those with even a single terrorist action in which dozens might die” (

            In the name of fighting terrorism, the Daghestani authorities have launched a program of intimidation featuring mass arrests and the disappearance of more than a hundred young men.  Despite the fact that many are frightened, an increasing number of mothers have spoken out and demanded an accounting of what the authorities have done with their sons.

            As Magomedova points out, their protest activity has attracted the negative attentions of the powers that be; but instead of being frightened off, activists have been able to attract ever more people to their meetings and to make demands against those who they believe are responsible for this tragedy.

            In short, in Daghestan now, the powers that be have applied just enough force to infuriate the population but not enough to keep them in a state of fear.  And that pattern, perhaps not surprising in Russia’s most Muslim and restive republic, is likely to spread to other parts of the North Caucasus and beyond in 2017.

            As a result, the Russian authorities are going to have to make a choice soon: either impose even more draconian measures on the population or change their policies. Continuing as they have been doing in 2016 is only going to lead to more anger, more protests and a greater risk of loss of control.

            Meanwhile, in Russian-occupied Crimea, the Russian special services engaged in a sweeping crackdown of all those Moscow suspects of being opposed to its illegal occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula, using intimidation, arrests, violence, and confinement in psychiatric hospitals in the worst Soviet tradition (

            The fact that these actions have gone on so long and with no let up, as Viktoriya Veselova points out in her report on “The Year of Repressions-2016” shows that they are a concerted policy and not the random actions of local or regional officials, as they are sometimes dismissed by those viewing the situation from Moscow.

            But what is most important about these two reports and others like them that could come from regional news outlets or international portals are two things. On the one hand, there is far more protest activity in Russia than many who look only at the capitals assume and there is likely to be even more in the future.

            And on the other hand, there is currently a grave danger that the Kremlin is using the regions, including and perhaps especially occupied Crimea and Muslim republics like Daghestan, as laboratories of repression, confident that few will notice and that its actions will therefore either be ignored altogether or come to be viewed as business as usual.

            Either of those outcomes – and tragically both are on view now – will have disastrous consequences not only for the people immediately involved but for the future of all those who live within the borders of the Russian Federation.

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