Vienna, October 5 – The shift over the last decade from nationalism to Islamism as the motivating force behind many of the armed groups in the North Caucasus fighting against Moscow has attracted a great deal of attention, but the emergence of corrupt local ethnocracies as “the third force” in this battle has generally passed unnoticed.
The lack of attention these institutions have attracted and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s willingness to rely on them as the first line of defense of the state have meant that few either in Moscow or elsewhere are in a position to understand what is happening in Ingushetia, Daghestan, and elsewhere.
In all these places, Igor Boykov argues in an analysis posted online yesterday, the representatives of corrupt local ethnocratic regimes are becoming the targets of insurgent groups, who are shifting their attacks from Russian infidels to local renegades from the faith (http://nazlobu.ru/publications/print2241.htm).
And it is this shift in targets rather than the shift in motivation that has transformed the violence in the North Caucasus in war “Putin-style,” the Moscow analyst suggests.
` In all the republics in this region, the titular nationality forms the power elite and rules over all other groups. Where, as in Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Daghestan, ethnocracy takes the form of rigidly agreed to division of key positions among the largest ethnic communities.
That might not be a problem, Boykov implies, were it not for two additional factors. On the one hand, he writes, Putin has chosen to rely on these governments as in Chechnya under Ramzan Kadyrov to take the pressure off Moscow and allow the Kremlin to claim victory.
And on the other, because all these governments depend on Moscow for massive support – the center provides 93 to 97 percent of their budgets -- elites not only have to spend money they don’t have to raise but also the chance to skim some of it into their own pockets and the opportunity to blackmail Moscow into giving them even more.
They do this, Boykov says, by creating conditions that spark revolt or even arranging it behind the scenes and then presenting themselves to the central authorities as the only ones capable of suppressing the armed fighters – if, of course, Moscow gives them more money.
Boykov suggests he could provide dozens of examples of this kind of “blackmail” by these ethnocratic regimes, but he gives only one. In 2005, Sergei Muratov, then head of the Daghestan FSB, charged that the republic elite and not the terrorists who had been blamed and destroyed ”stood behind the bloody terrorist act of May 9, 2002, at Kaspiisk.
Moscow responded to this not by cutting off assistance but by providing even more money to the ethnocrats in Makhachkala, fearful that if the center did not, the situation in Daghestan might get even worse. Not surprisingly, Boykov suggests, the members of that elite took their cut before using any of the funds to “fight terrorism.”
The populations of these republics, of course, can easily see what is happening, and many of them are thus ready to support those who attack the corrupt local regimes – even if these same populations would be quite willing to support a pro-Moscow government ready and able to impose an honest political order.
The deteriorating situation in Ingushetia is “the logical consequence of [this] Putin policy in the Caucasus,” a policy “stupid, blind, and deaf” and devoted to “an unending” provision of financial support to “mafia-like ethnocratic elites” across the North Caucasus.
All that, Boykov ends by saying, does not mean that he opposes the use of force against the anti-government groups. Such force can and should be used, and under certain conditions as both tsarist and Soviet history suggests, it will be extremely effective in restoring order.
The most important of those conditions, the Moscow analyst continues, is that those using force must be seen as serving a higher goal than their own enrichment, something true of General Yermolov in the 19th century and Soviet dictator Stalin in the 20th.
Unfortunately, Boykov sums up, such leaders are not on offer today either in Moscow or in the ethnocracies of the North Caucasus. Instead, Putin’s regime in both of these places is “a petty geopolitical Lilliputian with an oil pipeline as it ‘chief appendage.’”
And regimes of that kind in Moscow and in the capitals of the non-Russian republics of the North Caucasus, Boykov concludes, are unlikely to attract the support of the overwhelming majority of the local people who are in the event not given any of the spoils the corrupt elites take for themselves.