Staunton, July 9 – The creation of even small federal territories around resort areas in the Caucasus mountains and in the area around Sochi could easily trigger serious conflicts among regions and republics and between various ethnic groups, Sergey Smirnov, the head of the Applied Political Science Foundation says.
Nervousness about that possibility, highlighted by the protests in Ingushetia after border changes with Chechnya, has increased in the last few days following the approval of a constitutional amendment putting federal territories at the same level as oblasts, krays and republics, and promises to adopt a law implementing that soon (1tv.ru/news/2020-07-03/388787-tsentrizbirkom_nazval_itogi_golosovaniya_po_konstitutsii_legitimnymi_pravdivymi_i_besspornymi).
And those concerns have increased over the last several days as Moscow officials have made it clear that they are focusing on two places in particular, the Kavminvody resort complex and the Sochi region along the Black Sea Coast. The first would cut into three federal subjects, Stavropol Kray, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachayevo-Cherkessia, all of whom regard any border change as a threat.
The second might be even more dangerous because it would exacerbate current conflicts between Russians and the Circassians who regard that region as holy because it was from there that tsarist forces expelled the Circassians in 1864. On just how serious this conflict is, see jamestown.org/program/sochi-once-again-epicenter-of-russian-circassian-conflict-but-circassians-register-a-win/.
The idea of running these resort areas from the center of the state goes back to tsarist times, Anton Chablin reminds (akcent.site/novosti/8689 and akcent.site/mneniya/8695).
Alexander I ran Kavminvody directly, and in 2010, the Foundation for Effective Politics urged that arrangement be revived for the Sochi region.
That proposal built on the fact that in 1993, Moscow gave Sochi the status of a resort of federal importance as part of the center’s plans to develop it. Then, plans for the Olympiad overwhelmed such ideas; but after the games, the city of Sochi found it couldn’t cope with the facilities that had been built.
Ever since, and especially because Vladimir Putin was so heavily invested psychologically in the Sochi Games, Russian officials have been discussing the possibility of carving out some entity around Sochi. Now, with the new amendment and likely adoption of an enabling law, they see their chance.
These two “federal territories” would be relatively small in terms of both territory and population, but even they would be controversial, especially if Moscow goes ahead without careful discussion with the local populations and all the stakeholders there, including ethnic minorities.
If Moscow does go ahead with these two projects, that move will not only exacerbate tensions in the two places but cause other non-Russians to become even more fearful than they are today that the Kremlin will use this new category against them even to the point of doing away with the non-Russian republics.
Because of that possibility, too, any move in Kavminvody or Sochi will lead to problems not only there but across the Russian Federation. (On such possibilities and fears, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/07/amendment-allowing-for-federal.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/07/federal-territories-amendment-threatens.html.)