Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Moves to Gut a Republic It Cannot Afford to Suppress

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 7 – After objections by Circassians both in the Russian Federation and abroad effectively blocked the Kremlin’s plan to fold Adygeia into Krasnodar kray, Moscow has sought to downgrade that republic in another way by removing the representations of key federal institutions there.
But that strategy, which Adygeis and other Circassian peoples quickly interpreted as an alternative path to the destruction of their homeland, has now sparked a new round of protests by Circassians there and elsewhere, including a direct appeal to President Vladimir Putin.
As part of Putin’s own policy of amalgamating smaller non-Russian federal units with larger and predominantly ethnic Russian ones, Moscow two years ago sought to combine Adygeia with Krasnodar kray, a move that many in the Russian capital expected to proceed as easily as had earlier steps of this kind.
But unlike in several others cases elsewhere, the people and government of Adygeia strongly objected, as did both politicians in the two other Circassian units in the Russian Federation, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachai-Cherkessia, and the leaders of the six million Circassians in the Middle East and Europe.
These various groups organized protest meetings and even established an international committee of solidarity with the Adygei Republic, a move that because of the prominence of some of its members led the Russian government to back away from its plans to eliminate Adygeia.
Shortly thereafter, however, Moscow adopted another tact, one intended to “liquidate” the republic de facto if not yet de jure. It shifted out of Adygeia the offices of the federal veterinary, natural resources, and narcotics control agencies, and now it has announced plans to shift to Krasnodar the federal tax service representation as well.
Although some local politicians were prepared to accept Moscow’s argument that this was all being done in the name of efficiency and fighting corruption, most were outraged, seeing what the central authorities were doing as “a direct threat to the status of the republic” (
First of all, they demanded that the leadership of the Southern Federal District take up their cause, and now they have sent an appeal to Putin and the Russian government disputing the center’s claims and underscoring just how unhappy they and all Chechens are with what Moscow is doing.
The open letter noted that the Adygei tax office had significantly improved collections over the past year and was every bit as efficient as those in other republics of the Southern Federal District where no one was talking about shifting this agency to someplace else.
And the authors of this appeal concluded by pointedly suggesting that initiatives from Moscow like this one can quickly and easily “lead to negative consequences not only in the economy of the republic but also destabilize the political situation across the region.”
Whether Moscow will back off again in the hopes of not offending the powerful Circassian diasporas in Turkey and Jordan remains to be seen, of course, but yesterday saw the appearance of another article on the situation in the North Caucasus that may help to convince the central authorities to do just that.
In an essay posted on the APN website, analyst Yuriy Soshin argues that the North Caucasus is moving quickly from “a crisis to a catastrophe” and that the reasons for that are not to be found in the actions of Islamists coming in from abroad but rather in the failure of government institutions there and in Moscow.
“The underlying cause of the current Caucasus crisis,” he writes, “is a crisis of government power. Not international terrorism, not the efforts of some kind or other of foreign enemies, but rather the impossibility of the adequate function of the state-administrative machine is giving birth to the destabilization of public life.”
He describes in extraordinary detail how Moscow has supported or at least not challenged corrupt local regimes if they are able to present themselves as being in control of the situation and loyal to the center, but the result is that these regimes have little public support or ability to act more generally.
And because Moscow has failed to build up genuine political institutions in the past, he continues, it faces a real crisis now, one that the central government could exacerbate by precipitate moves of the kind that central officials appear to be making in Adygeia (

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