Vienna, March 27 – A rising tide of Russian ethno-nationalism in several predominantly Russian regions adjoining the non-Russian republics of the northern Caucasus is threatening Moscow’s control of the entire area, according to two Moscow analysts.
In recent essay, Sergei Markedonov, a leading Moscow specialist on ethnic issues, argues that Stavropol kray, until recently one of the most pacific regions in the northern Caucasus, “has changed its image more radically and rapidly” than any other of the regions of the Russian Federation (http://wwwww.politcom.ru/print.php?id=4293).
Unlike Krasnodar kray, whose leadership has become notorious for its nationalist extremism, Stavropol had distinguished itself in the minds of most observers as an advance post of Russian influence in the Caucasus and even as “a melting pot” for that region’s various ethnic communities.
But three developments have changed the situation there virtually over nigh, Markedonov argues. First, Stavropol has had to confront increased ethnic assertiveness among non-Russians from the six non-Russian autonomies it shares a border with and from both indigenous ethnic groups and the influx of non-Russian migrants.
Second, Markedonov points out, it has had to do so without much support from the central Russian government. As a result, the Stavropol authorities have articulated their own immigration and citizenship rules, something that has also contributed to the rise of Russian nationalism there.
And third, many ethnic Russians in the northern Caucasus, both those who have fled from ethnic conflicts in Chechnya and elsewhere and those who remain in these tense regions, now look to Stavropol not only as their refuge but also as their possible defender against non-Russian groups.
All these developments, the Moscow ethnic specialist argues, are intensifying Russian nationalist feelings and thus reducing the attractiveness of Stavropol for non-Russians in the Caucasus, thus limiting its ability to advance Moscow’s interests in the northern Caucasus and in the southern Caucasus as well.
And in a second article put online a week ago, Oleg Kusov points to a development that may ultimately prove even more threatening to Russian control of the Caucasus: Cossack demands for reestablishing a Terek Guberniya as a homeland for the 300,000 Cossacks in the Northern Caucasus (http://www.narodru.ru/article7930.html).
Such an entity, which the Cossack leadership believes should be carved out of portions of Daghestan, Chechnya, North Ossetia, and Stavropol kray, would undercut what order there is in the region, although Cossacks insist that “the territorial divisions of Russia have never been a dogma.”
Not surprisingly, the Cossack drive for the creation of this entity face an uphill battle. Neither the tsars nor the Soviet authorities viewed the Cossacks as a separate people but rather a part of the ethnic Russian nation -- although the former were more prepared than the latter to treat the Cossacks as a special and distinctive community.
Since 1991, however, many Cossacks have demanded that they be recognized and treated as a separate nation. They did succeed in establishing a “national cultural autonomy” in the Mozdok Region of North Osetia in 2000, but three years later, the judicial authorities there closed it down.
Moreover, Kusov continues, Cossacks from the northern Caucasus seven years ago set up in Moscow a Committee for the Re-Establishment of the Terek Oblast, a group that has remained active both in the media and on the ground.
According to Vladimir Parkhomenko, a leader of this group, “the North Caucasus region has been in a deep crisis” and the only way out is to establish a Cossack territory so that Cossacks can live “alongside the ethnic communities of the mountains but not together with them.”
No one can disagree with Parkhomenko’s assessment of the situation in this region, but almost all Russian politicians and analysts profoundly disagree with his prescription, seeing it as a recipe for disaster. In this, they are almost certainly correct, perhaps even more than they know.
On the one hand, were the Cossacks to get their way, the entire Northern Caucasus would explode. But on the other, if the Cossacks continue to make these demands and are denied Russian support, they too become a loose cannon in a region that already has too many.
Many Cossacks certainly understand that, but because they do, they will be divided between those inclined to back down and those who believe that pressing their case will force Moscow to give them more resources even if it will not agree to the creation of a Cossack territory.
The balance between these groups is as yet unclear, but it could surface at a meeting Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov plans to have with Terek Cossack activists sometime in the first half of next month, however much many in Moscow would like to see this additional threat to its position in the region simply go away.