Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Plan to Return Russians to Rural North Caucasus Could Prove Explosive

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 18 – At a time when Moscow is considering how to implement Sergey Shoygu’s call for building new cities in Siberia to expand the Russian population there, some in the Russian capital are thinking about similar projects to stop Russian flight from the North Caucasus and even make possible the return of ethnic Russians to that region.

            Since the end of Soviet times, ethnic Russians have left the republics of the North Caucasus in massive numbers, reducing their share of the population to almost nothing in Chechnya and to a much reduced size elsewhere. Most of that flight came from the cities where Russians were most numerous because of industrial development.

            Now, Yegeny Tsots, a Regnum news agency commentator, argues that Moscow should develop centers outside those cities in the highland regions of the North Caucasus. That would allow them to live in one of the most environmentally friendly areas around and of course improve Russian security (https://regnum.ru/news/society/3374447.html).

            Moscow has had little success in holding ethnic Russians in the major cities of the North Caucasus whose political elites are dominated by members of the titular nationalities even if they are appointed by and entirely loyal to Moscow (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/04/moscows-efforts-to-hold-russians-in.html).

            What makes Tsots’ proposal intriguing is that he favors bringing ethnic Russians to new settlements in the mountainous rural areas of the North Caucasus rather than returning them to the cities there. Such flows would reduce the likelihood of conflicts in the capitals but could easily increase them in rural areas.

            On the one hand, the rural populations of the North Caucasus republics are almost homogeneous in their non-Russian composition. Establishing Russian outposts there would resemble the Cossack lines that the Russian Empire created as it expanded into non-Russian areas – and it would certainly be viewed as such.

            And on the other hand, such a move would exacerbate what is already one of the greatest problems in the region: land hunger. As populations have soared, fighting over land has intensified. If Moscow were to introduce ethnic Russians into the mix, such conflicts would be transformed from socio-economic ones to explosive ethno-national ones.

            Because of the near certainty that would be the case, Moscow is unlikely to move quickly in this direction. But the fact that it is talking about it at all reflects the growing fears in the capital that the emptying out of the rural areas of the country is a threat to the country’s national security that must be addressed.

            And because the current regime has no new ideas of how to address this problem, it is reaching back to ideas which circulated in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, ideas that worked until they collapsed in the revolutionary upheavals of the first part of the twentieth century.


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