Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Urged to Use Oil Profits to Resettle Russians in Border Regions

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 5 – The Russian government should use its current enormous earnings from the sale of oil and gas abroad to finance the resettling of ethnic Russians in border regions of the country, according to Alu Alkhanov, the former president of Chechnya and current Russian Federation deputy justice minister.
In an interview in yesterday’s “Argumenty i Fakty,” Alkhanov argues that such an effort is necessary now lest the continuing departure of ethnic Russians from the periphery of Russia threaten both the well-being of these areas and even the country’s territorial integrity (
Not surprisingly given his own background, Alkhanov points to the collapse of the ethnic Russian presence in the North Caucasus. Between the 1989 and 2002 censuses, he notes, the percentage of ethnic Russians declined across this region from 26 percent – or about one in four – to 15 percent – or less than one in six.
In some places the decline was relatively small. In Adygeia, the Russian share fell only three percent from 68 percent to 65 percent, but in others, this decline was enormous: In Ingushetia, the Russian presence fell from 10 percent to one percent, and in Chechnya, it fell from 25 percent to only four percent.
The impact of the departure of the ethnic Russians has been three-fold: First, it has emboldened nationalist radicals. Second, it has harmed the social-economic and spiritual well being of the regions they have left. And third, it has undermined “the constitutional principle of the territorial integrity of the Russian state.”
The leaders of some republics have done a great deal: he mentions the Chechnya’s late Akhmat Kadyrov (but significantly not his son and the current leader who ousted Alkhanov) and Ingushetiya’s M. Zyazikov. But he pointedly remarks that they lack the resources needed to do the job.
What Alkhanov says he would like to see is an effort “at the level of a fifth national project,” one that would draw on “the many examples of the successful resolution of such major problems” in the history of Russia. But the examples he gives of this are somewhat troubling.
Alkhanov suggests that Moscow should study the experience of returning those peoples deported by Stalin, the use of Grozniy as “one of the centers of traditional cultural influence of Russia in the North Caucasus,” and changes in the size of ethnic Russian communities as one of the measures of a regional leader’s success.
In many ways, the outflow of ethnic Russians from the republics of the North Caucasus and elsewhere recapitulates what happened in the last two decades of the Soviet Union: the ethnic homogenization of most republics that helped to power the national movements that contributed to the end of the USSR.
And consequently, it is not surprising that many in Moscow are concerned about the implications of these new demographic shifts. But in addition to the obvious problems of pushing Russians to return to regions marked by violence, there are three other reasons why this task may well be beyond Moscow’s capacity.
First, the number of potential returnees is small: Earlier studies suggest that ethnic Russians in the North Caucasus had adapted well. If they have decided to leave, it is almost certain that no other Russians would be willing to take the risk of moving there. ([p;otocs/lyudi/russkij_vopros_v_ingushetii).
Second, the economic situation across the North Caucasus is so dire that Moscow could make the situation more attractive only by investing sums that other regions would almost certainly oppose even if they were justified by reference to national security (
And third – and most worrisome of all -- there is growing evidence, not only in Ingushetia where it has attracted widespread attention this week but elsewhere as well that non-Russian radicals are targeting ethnic Russians to cause ever more of those who remain to think about leaving (

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