Vienna, November 12 – A senior Russian general who fought in the second post-Soviet Chechen war and has been an advisor to his country’s defense minister says that the security situation across the Northern Caucasus is deteriorating rapidly, a view very much at odds with the upbeat assessments offered by President Vladimir Putin.
In an interview published in this week’s Moskovskiye novosti, Lt.Gen. Vladimir Shamanov said that the weakness of government institutions there, a variety of social problems that remain unresolved, and the ways in which the militants have evolved in recent times mean “the counter-terrorist operation is not ended.”
And while some progress has been made against the anti-Russian opposition in Chechnya, the general said, Moscow now faces a more serious challenge in Daghestan and Ingushetia, both from Chechen fighters who have fled there and from home-grown militants (http://www.mn.ru/issue/2007-44-31).
Shamanov, who gained a reputation for brutality in Moscow’s Chechen campaigns but who has long argued that Moscow has focused too narrowly on that republic alone, pointed to three additional factors which he said were leading to the spread of violence across that region.
First, he argued that “corrupt North Caucasian elites” now represent “no less a danger for the country than international terrorist centers” not only because they do not effectively run their republics but also because they have little or no authority with the populations supposedly under their control.
As a result, their ethnic and religious opponents find it easy to mobilize public opinion against them, to bring in funds from outside or extract them from fearful or complicit officials, and to deny the governments there the chance to seize the initiative in the conflict.
Second, Shamanov said, underlying social problems provide a breeding ground for the militants. Not only is their massive unemployment and “shockingly” low levels of education among young people, but also the ethnic Russian communities on whom Moscow could rely have left and are not coming back.
And third, across the region, there are ever more Muslim institutions such as mosques and medressahs. While some are completely loyal and deserve to be protected, many have radicalized public opinion and become recruitment centers for anti-Russian militants.
The central Russian government has not addressed these problems by insisting on better performance from the regional governments, improving the economic situation there, or addressing the ideological challenges from some Muslim communities and other militants against it.
Instead, it has assumed that the use of military force is sufficient and that it now has the situation well in hand. In fact, Shamanov continued, Moscow is only setting itself up for more problems ahead, not only by these policy failures but also by its plans for the Sochi Olympics, an event that the militants are certain to try to disrupt.
Shamanov’s argument was echoed in two other articles that appeared in the Russian media at the end of last week. In the same issue of Moskovskiye novosti, Ruslan Martagov said that the current lull in the fighting between Moscow and the militants will not last (http://www.mn.ru/issue/2007-44-28).
A Chechen who opposed Dzhokar Dudayev in the early 1990s and has worked with pro-Moscow groups there later, Martagov argued that Russian officials have failed to recognize or adapt their actions to the fact that “terrorism and frontal military actions are completely different things.”
Terrorism is an effective strategy, he continued, only if the regime against which it is directed is dependent to some degree on popular attitudes, something that is clearly not the case in the Russian Federation at the present time. After all, “why sacrifice dozens of one’s own and bury hundreds of hostages without any result?”
One indication of this, he said, is that the leaders of the Chechen militants now say that young people should not come into the mountains to take part in the fight against Moscow but rather “form cells, gather arms and wait for a signal [to take action] at their places of residence.”
Another is that more and more Chechens accept that argument of London-based Ichkeria diplomat Akhmed Zakayev that with the installation of the Kadyrov regime in Grozniy, Moscow is regardless of its intentions “financing and arming a future independent Chechnya.”
That is all the more the case, Martagov said because “the [Muslim] clericalization of public life in Chechnya is opening for the advocates of religious extremism the broadest possibilities,” something that helps promote the independence of Chechnya whatever anyone may think.
In this situation then, Martagov concluded, Moscow may think it is winning, but whatever its victories on the ground may be, they are not only short term but quickly reversible, especially if the Russian government continues to fail to recognize the ways in which its opponents are recasting themselves.
A second and even more thoughtful argument about the worsening situation in the region was offered by Igor Dobayev, a specialist on ethnic and religious movements of the Caucasus at the Southern Scientific Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences (kavkaz.geopolitika.ru/analit/islam?PHPSESSID=a4109bcd6bf121ef4961242397e78f0).
Among other points he makes in addition to those offered by Shamanov and Martagov, Dobayev suggested that Moscow bears much of the blame for the rise of Islamism not only because it opened the way for it by suppressing more moderate groups but also because it initially failed to recognize the dangers of imams trained abroad.
In the 1990s, he pointed out, most Muslims in the region were traditionalists who supported the Russian government, but when members of ethnic groups there tried to organize political parties, Moscow forcibly disbanded them, thus leaving the field open for the radicals who said that Muslims should not cooperate with a non-Islamic state.
And the central government was too slow to recognize the dangers arising from Muslims trained in Islamic center in the Middle East and South Asia. “In the course of the 1990s,” Dobayev wrote, “more than 4,000 young people received Islamic education abroad,” with a large share of them radicalized by it.
Now, the fruits of those failures are ripening, the scholar noted, with polls showing that 54.5 percent of all residents of Daghestan supporting fundamentalist movements, and with that figure rising to more than 82 percent in highland portions of that republic.
Unless Moscow and its allies in the region recognize that repression alone will be counter-productive, that the battle is an ideological one, and that their best hope is to cut off funding to their opponents, Dobayev concluded, the Russian government will face an increasingly bleak situation in the North Caucasus.