Saturday, May 25, 2019

West Prefers a Moscow-Controlled North Caucasus to an Islamic One, Shmulyevich Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 25 – Avraam Shmulyevich, an Israeli specialist on the Caucasus, says that the West clearly prefers a North Caucasus under Russian control than one that is dominated by Islamist groups, the only current alternative on offer to Moscow’s continuing dominance of the region.

Shmulyevich is undoubtedly correct in his assessment and his warning that the peoples of the region should not expect Western support for any moves toward independence unless and until they come up with a secular program (

Clearly, as he says in a Youtube interview summarized by Russian Monitor, “Islam is one of the factors blocking the acquisition of independence of the Caucasus. Above all, because the idea of an Islamic Caucasus will never receive support from the West which will prefer the status quo, a North Caucasus kept within the borders of Russia and controlled by Moscow.”

But in making that argument, Shmulyevich blames the peoples of the region for choosing the Islamic option rather than recognizing that many of them did so not because it was their first choice but rather because, after the West rejected them, the Muslim world was the only place prepared to support their aspirations in the 1990s.
Chechnya’s Dzhokhar Dudayev advanced a secular program of state independence based to the surprise of no one who knew him on his experience as a Soviet commander of the Tartu garrison in Estonia. A major general in the Soviet air force who was a hero in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, he was in no way an Islamist.

But his appeals to the West for support received only expressions of concern and not the open backing he hoped for; and over time, he and even more his successors turned to the Muslim world which was prepared to support their aspirations. That set the stage for the Islamic approach in his republic.

Indeed, and this is often ignored by Western experts, Ramzan Kadyrov is far more Islamist than Dudayev ever was. But Kadyrov as Russia’s agent in place is acceptable to the West while Dudayev wasn’t – and now is blamed for what he never was. Consequently, those who today say “better Kadyrov than ISIS,” as Shmulyevich puts it, are engaged in revisionism.

This issue might be of only historical interest if it were not for one thing: Moscow can see that the West makes this kind of calculation and thus has a vested interest in promoting the notion that Islamism is the only alternative to Russian power in the region. As long as that is accepted, the West will remain on Russia’s side.

In fact, there are many movements in the North Caucasus where Islam is far from being the moving force. In Ingushetia, for example, the protests are informed far more by secular nationalist concerns about protecting territory and human rights than by Islam; but Moscow suggests otherwise and many in the West go along.

Similar points could be made about the Circassian national movement and even Chechens. Many in emigration oppose him not from Islamist perspectives but from secular ones. Unfortunately, many are not interested in recognizing that or supporting those who are still pursuing, despite all the odds, a modernist approach.

In another part of his interview, Shmulyevich makes an additional point which is important to keep in mind. He says that if Putin avoids another foreign adventure, the current Russian empire could remain in place for some time. But eventually, that empire like all empires will die because the colonies will cost the center more than they benefit it.

Once Russia does withdraw, he continues, many vectors are possible from a war of all against all to cooperation and progress.  It is important to recognize that the latter course is possible, instead of assuming as Moscow wants the West to that it is the only thing standing between stability and Islamist disaster.

By Repressing Opposition, Yevkurov has Radicalized Ingush and Ignited New ‘Hot Spot’ in the Region, Chablin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 25 – By his sweeping campaign of searches and arrests among Ingush who have been protesting his rule, republic head Yunus-Bek Yevkurvo is driving the Ingush protest movement underground, creating a dangerous new “hot spot” in the North Caucasus, one for which he and Moscow are to blame, according to Anton Chablin.

            The analyst who specializes on the North Caucasus says that Yevkurov has not listened either to his own police who have urged him not to crack down or to human rights activists in the region, Moscow and the West who have called for negotiations.  Instead, he has pursued a repressive policy designed to give quick results (

            But this approach doesn’t solve anything, only drives it underground waiting for some new event to touch it off. And there are many such things that can trigger new protests. Most recently, there is the issue of the border with North Ossetia with which Ingushetia fought a war in the 1990s. No Ingush has forgotten and all will protest if Magas doesn’t stand up for them.

            Said Sirazhudinov, head of the Center for Research on Global Issues and Regional Problems, concurs.  Harsh measures like those Yevkurov is using “give the short-term appearance of stability but they do not solve problems. Rather, they do just the reverse. Any new event … can lead to a spontaneous sharpening of the situation.”

            Meanwhile, there were two other developments on the ground likely to affect the situation In Ingushetia. On the one hand, some 300 soldiers who had been serving in Syria have returned to the republic giving Yevkurov a  new strike force he may use against his opponents (

            And on the other, Ingush Republic investigators are taking a hard line and refusing to investigate reports of torture by jailors of Ingush detainees, a refusal certain to anger their families, lawyers and friends and make it even more difficult to keep the lines of communication open between the powers that be and the protesters (

Backers of Cathedral Project in Yekaterinburg Move to Form Christian Political Party

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 24 – A group of Yekaterinburg activists who backed the idea of erecting an Orthodox cathedral in the city’s main square have not accepted defeat. Instead, they have announced plans to form “a Christian political party” to continue to fight for what they want, a plan at odds with Russian law and one likely to provoke inter-confessional conflict.

            Russian legislation does not permit the formation of political parties based on religion, nationality, or region, but it is entirely possible in the current environment that Russian officials will pay no more heed to that legislation as far as this proposed group is concerned than they do with respect to other laws and constitutional provisions.

            Perhaps even more serious, however, the formation of such a party could prove “an explosive mix,” some local observers say, creating a political group that like the Christian Democrats in the West might prove far more attractive to the Russian people than any of the current alternatives (

            And it could certainly trigger or exacerbate conflicts between Orthodox Christians and Muslims not only in Yekaterinburg but elsewhere. The Muslim community in the Urals city has reiterated its demand that the city keep its promise to allow the Muslims to build a mosque in the center of  the city (в-екатеринбурге-после-конфликта-с-хра/).

            Muslims elsewhere in the Russian Federation almost certainly would respond to the appearance of a Christian party with demands that they be allowed to form one or more Muslim ones. This risk of that could be enough to keep Russian officialdom from allowing this proposed party to take shape.

            Oksana Ivanova who emerged during the protests over plans to build a cathedral in the central park of Yekaterinburg as a leader of the pro-construction faction tells the URA news agency that “not all Orthodox” feel comfortable in expressing their views openly and her organization will help their voices to be heard (

            She adds that she “studied the ideas of Christian socialism for many years while in the university, writing a diploma focused on an analysis of the social-economic appeals of Russian religious figures of the 20th century such as Sergey Bulgakov and Nikolay Berdyayev.” The time has come for their ideas to be pushed forward.

            Ivanova continues: “I think that Orthodox lay people have the right as citizens to unite so that their voice will be heard by society and the powers that be and allow us to better hear one another. To say what precisely that should be, a party or something else, I now am not prepared to say. I am not a political scientist.”

            She says that she expects the Church will bless such an undertaking. But if one of the hierarchs opposes it, Ivanova continues, she would have to rethink what she is doing because as an Orthodox Christian, she would not want to do something that would harm the church in any way.

            Ivanova says that she is guided by a vision. In her mind’s eye, the cathedral is already in the square, and that explains both her passion and the pathos of her public statements.