Thursday, April 22, 2021

Moscow’s Efforts to Hold Russians in North Caucasus have All Failed, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 19 – Concerned that Russian flight from Chechnya, Ingushetia and Daghestan will cost it control, Moscow has elaborated a series of programs to try to keep Russians from leaving or even promote the return to these republics of ethnic Russians. But all these efforts have failed, experts say.

            Aleksandr Cherkasov, a Russian human rights activist, says these programs were doomed from the outset because they ignored the long-term trends in the area and because Moscow all too often was willing to accept false claims by local officials as true, thus allowing the situation to deteriorate (

            Maksim Shevchenko, a Russian journalist who specializes on Caucasus issues, says that the programs might have worked had Moscow focused on creating conditions for specific groups of Russians such as teachers and doctors and taken steps to ensure those conditions existed. But that hasn’t happened and so Russian flight has continued or even accelerated.

            And Moscow Islamicist Aleksey Malashenko says that conditions in the region are making it ever less likely that Russia will be able to get Russians to return. North Caucasus societies are becoming more traditional, and Russians who settled there earlier are increasingly uncomfortable. They are leaving and they aren’t being replaced.

            Moreover, the industries which attracted Russians to the region in the first place are decaying, and the cities around them which had been predominantly ethnic Russian are now dominated by non-Russian groups. As a result, “the Russian question has not found an adequate reflection in the present-day policy of present-day Russia.”

            Before presenting these judgments, Sergey Zharkov of Prague’s Caucasus Times, details the trajectory of the Russian presence in the North Caucasus from its rise during collectivization and industrialization to its decline as educational levels of non-Russians rose and as the non-Russians took jobs and urban spaces away from the Russians over the last 50 years.

            Zharkov documents that these trends were well under way before the collapse of the Soviet Union but says they have only intensified since 1991, with the major cities of the North Caucasus now dominated by non-Russians and few Russians left outside them anywhere in the eastern portion of that region.

            What makes this pattern so disturbing to many in the Russian capital, he points out, is that something similar took place in the non-Russian union republics before the end of Soviet times; and consequently, there are real fears that demography will trump police power and that Russia will lose the North Caucasus republics in the same way the USSR lost the union ones.

            There are, of course, important differences. The non-Russian republics of the North Caucasus are much smaller than the Muslim countries of Central Asia and they thus have fewer possibilities to strike out on their own. But the departure of the ethnic Russians nevertheless means that they have far fewer links to the Russian Federation.

            And if the trends Zharkov and the other experts point to continue, there is every reason to expect that at least some people there will continue to seek independence from Moscow, however great the difficulties of doing so may be.

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