Monday, May 25, 2020

If Moscow Wants to Keep North Caucasus within Russia, It Must Get Russians to Return and Live There, Chechen Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 24 – Over the last five decades and especially in the early 1990s, ethnic Russians have been leaving the North Caucasus in droves, making the non-Russian republics in that region increasingly homogeneously non-Russian and making their integration with the rest of Russia far more difficult, Abdulla Istamulov says.

            If Moscow wants to keep them as component parts of the Russian Federation, the director of Grozny’s Center for Strategic Research and the Development of Civil Society says, then it is “obligatory” that Moscow encourage ethnic Russians to return to live and work in the North Caucasus (

            According to Istamulov, Russians and non-Russians got along fine. Even religion was not an obstacle to large-scale interethnic marriages; and non-Russians took from the Russians many positive attitudes and behaviors. With the departure of the Russians, the non-Russians are increasingly on their own, affected by each other but not by Russians.

            He says that his own positive view of Russians was formed by ethnic Russian teachers who worked in Chechen schools.  For their efforts, Istamulov continues, he is “infinitely grateful.” But now the situation is changed: Russian is taught by non-Russian teachers, and consequently, the values he imbibed in the past are not being communicated.

            Some Russians left because of the instability of the early 1990s, he says, but most left because the values of the Soviet system, values that had held members of different nationalities together, were no longer defended against their critics. People left and not only from the North Caucasus to go where they thought their home was.

            Not surprisingly, that led to radicalization among non-Russians but also among ethnic Russians as well.  The people were impoverished, and populist politicians who told people what they wanted to hear created deep divisions between peoples who earlier had been close, Istamulov says.

            The biggest outflow was between 1989 and 1993. After that time, only those who did not want to leave or who had lived all their lives in the region remained.  Especially likely to remain were those who had married local people. “In practice, we had mixed marriages in every village.”

            Many in the North Caucasus were led astray by the siren song of freedom and independence. “There was no understanding that we are all tied together in economics and politics and that if Russia leaves, Uncle Sam will come via the Turks.”

            “I always told our leaders that if Uncle Sam comes, then gay clubs will come as well. Who will you be then, Chechens? You will disappear. Let’s leave with t hose with whom we have lived. They aren’t banning your faith. You can make a career. It is profitable for Chechens to live in Russia,” the Grozny commentator says.

            It is critically important that Russians come back to the North Caucasus. Earlier programs intended to promote that didn’t work: money allocated for them disappeared without effect, and the wrong people were chosen. More than that, many of these efforts failed to take into account the reaction of local people returning Russians would be competing with.

            There is little doubt that this kind of Chechen declaration of loyalty to Russians is exactly what the Kremlin wants to hear; but Istamulov’s insistence that if the Russians don’t return,  the North Caucasus won’t remain within the borders of the Russian Federation must spark concerns that not everything in that region is to Moscow’s liking. 

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