Sunday, June 30, 2019

Moscow’s Efforts to Provoke Circassians into Violence Backfiring on the Kremlin

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 28 – By planting drugs on Martin Kochesoko, an outspoken defender of Circassian rights, the Russian authorities hope to provoke that long-suffering nation in the North Caucasus to engage in the kind of violent protest that will give Moscow the pretext to crush its leaders with violence.

            But that effort is backfiring in two important ways, a new article in Novaya gazeta suggests.  On the one hand, by focusing on the Circassian national movement, Moscow has unintentionally highlighted how much stronger it has become in recent months. And on the other, it has provided the occasion for Circassians to take their case to Russians more broadly.

            In the past, Circassian activists tell Ilya Azar of the Moscow paper, the Russian authorities have largely ignored Circassian protests, an approach that has tended to demobilize the national movement because its supporters ask why they should protest if they will only be greeted with silence (

            Now, because the movement is growing, Russian officials are paying attention; and their attention is highlighting the growth and strength of a movement that the authorities had earlier dismissed as marginal.  But it has had another consequence as well: it has allowed the Circassians to make their case to a broader audience. Azar’s article is a clear example of this.

            In more than 5,000 words, the journalist details the demands of the Circassians – for the return of compatriots from Syria and Iraq, for support of their language, for recognition of the 1864 expulsion as a genocide, and for the unification of Circassians subgroups and territories into a single nation and republic.

            Before Moscow launched this new campaign with the trumped-up charges against Kochesoko, such an article media would have been almost unheard of. Now, with Russians drawing parallels between what the powers that be are doing to them and the Circassians, that is changing (

            As a result of official attacks, the Circassians are gaining support from a broader community; and both that attention and that support has encouraged them to adopt a disciplined approach that will not give Moscow any opening for the kind of broader repressive response that it has hoped for.

            At the end of Soviet times, it was sometimes observed that the Kremlin thought it could fight what had become a grease fire by throwing water on it, not recognizing that doing so would only spread the fire not put it out.  Now, once again, the Kremlin is making the same mistake by attacking the Circassians in this way.

            Instead of being intimidated, they have been encouraged; instead of being marginalized, they are acquiring new allies; and instead of being defeated as Moscow had hoped they were after Sochi, the Circassians are demonstrating their capacity to pursue their goals in ways that the powers that be in Moscow are finding it ever more difficult to counter. 

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