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.

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