Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Russian Forces Said Suffering More Casualties in North Caucasus Than They Inflict

Paul Goble

Baku, January 29 – Russia’s deputy interior minister says Moscow’s forces are suffering more fatalities in the North Caucasus than they’re inflicting on their opponents, according to a media report, but a Moscow analyst argues they cannot withdraw, lest that trigger “a remake” of what happened to the USSR in 1991 inside the Russian Federation.
At a meeting of security officials in the Rostov-na-Donu last Thursday, Arkadiy Yedelev said that, in the words of a Nezavisimaya gazeta report yesterday, that “the number of soldiers and militiamen dying [there] significantly exceed the number of militants destroyed” (http://www.ng.ru/ngregions/2008-01-28/13_kavkaz.html).
The paper quoted Yedelev’s conclusion that the number of militants is not declining as most Russian officials – including President Vladimir Putin – continue to insist, but increasing and that this will not change until there is better coordination among security services and an improvement of the social and economic situation there.
Yedelev’s conclusion is thus extremely revealing given that, with the exception of Chechnya, neither Moscow nor any regime in the North Caucasus regularly release figures of the losses their forces are suffering, although they do trumpet reports on the killings or capture of militants.
But precisely because the Russian authorities have not been forthcoming, speculation about just how many Russian soldiers and militia officers are dying in the North Caucasus is increasingly widespread and has prompted some Russian nationalists to suggest that the country should cut its losses and let the region go.
That attitude, which almost certainly will intensify as Yedelev’s remarks become more widely known on the Runet blogosphere, has drawn a sharp rejoinder from a Russian commentator who argues that if Russians give up the North Caucasus, they might soon have to give up “Ryazan, Pskov, Kostroma. Or [even] Moscow.”
In a commentary posted online yesterday that recalls the domino theory arguments of Americans who backed Vietnam War, Igor Boykov said that few of them realize their approach would lead to “a remake” of the disintegration of the Soviet Union inside the Russian Federation (http://www.apn.ru/publications/article19033.htm).
In many ways, he continues, “the spread of such inclinations is symptomatic. And it cannot fail to generate concern. Because it recalls the 1980s” when nationalists in the union republics decided that Moscow was “robbing them” and ethnic Russians not only did almost nothing to oppose this but in many cases viewed it as legitimate.
Now, “almost 20 years have passed.” But a dangerously similar scenario is developing. Non-Russians in the North Caucasus are denouncing the capital of the Russian state and instead of supporting efforts to put them in their place, some Russians are talking about pulling back.
Although there have been some outbursts of Russian nationalist feeling – in Kondopoga, the Transbaikal, Stavropol, and Belorechensk – there has not been any real growth in a Russian nationalism committed to defending and even advancing Russia’s national interests, and Russians should stop thinking that there has been.
“In general, instead of a desire to struggle even for that Russia which was left to us after 1991, an overwhelming majority of nationalists propose to pull back still further to the North, .. to run away … and to end their ‘glorious’ historical path by the construction of a ‘white’ Russia in the waves of the Arctic Ocean.”
Boykov repeats all of the arguments apologists for the Soviet Union made in Gorbachev’s time against the independence of the non-Russian republics: they lack a tradition of statehood, their lives are too intertwined to separate, their borders are only “administrative,” and the people there really want to remain within the USSR.
But in addition, he says, that if the republics of the North Caucasus became independent, their economies collapse and their populations would flood into Moscow and throughout Russia, brining within them “thousands of Wahhabis” and the near certainty that a “green” Muslim revolution would take place “in Russia itself.”
Moreover, he argues, no Russian should delude himself to think that his diminished state would be in a position to erect “a Chinese wall” that would keep them out. Not only are there huge numbers of people from the Caucasus already in Russian cities, but Moscow has demonstrated it cannot prevent them from coming in even now.
And consequently, he says, no matter how difficult conditions may be in the North Caucasus, Russia cannot withdraw. If it did, Russia itself would disintegrate, an event he argues would be just as “enormous and tragic” as was the collapse of the USSR, “one of the greatest geopolitical catastrophes in human history.”

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