Staunton, March 20 – Ethnic tensions in the North Caucasus over borders among republics have sparked protests and even violence and those have attracted widespread attention (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/01/kremlins-failure-to-anticipate-where.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/02/kadyrov-again-highlights-his.html).
But these are only the tip of a much larger iceberg, tensions within the republics, especially multi-national ones, over land within them, the result of growing populations unable to acquire more land for agricultural activities. Even where population growth has slowed as a result of outmigration, these tensions are escalating.
Kabardino-Balkaria, a binational Circassian-Turkic republic, is one where population growth has been relatively slower than elsewhere in the regions but where conflicts over access to land are now escalating, sometimes leading to conflicts between the nationalities there and sometimes between these nationalities and Russian outsiders.
Four leading KBR activists have now issued an open letter calling attention to this problem and demanding that the authorities take steps so that local people will have better access to land for agricultural use (zapravakbr.ru/index.php/30-uncategorised/1650-kabardino-balkariya-yavlyaetsya-malozemelnoj-selskoe-naselenie-zhivet-v-trudnykh-usloviyakh-dlya-zanyatiya-agrarnym-biznesom-nevozmozhno-poluchit-zemelnoe-uchastki).
The four point out that “Kabardino-Balkaria is a territorially small republic and that its rural population lives in difficult conditions because those who want to engage in agricultural business cannot get the parcels of land” they need. Instead, land is being snapped up by outsiders through the use of bribes.
The situation is critical because it raises the possibility that land conflicts in the region are about to change from being primarily among the non-Russian nations in the North Caucasus to becoming one between members of those nations and outside business interests, mostly ethnic Russian.
Should that occur, Moscow will face a far more difficult challenge in controlling the region than it does now, with fights over land no longer helping the center to run the region through divide-and-rule tactics but rather highlighting the underlying conflict between the peoples of the region and the Russian government.