Baku, April 29 – All its rhetoric notwithstanding, Moscow cannot move very far to expand its ties to the so-called “unrecognized” states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia lest it provoke the further destabilization of the North Caucasus and thus threaten the Russian Federation’s ability to hold the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi in 2014.
In an interview posted on the Islam.ru portal, Akhmet Yarlykapov, a specialist on the Caucasus at the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, argues that Russia’s choices are far more limited than many there think because of the risks of a new explosion in various parts of the North Caucasus (www.islam.ru/pressclub/gost/ahyrsek/).
Russia absolutely does not need the destabilization of the North Caucasus” that almost any of its moves toward Abkhazia or South Ossetia would entail, the Moscow-based ethnographer says, all the more so since the potential for new conflicts in that region remains extraordinarily high.
The situation in Chechnya has improved somewhat, thanks to Moscow’s “tactical” move toward “’Chechenization’,” he suggests, but that very success, one predicated on a virtually unlimited grant of power to Ramzan Kadyrov entails the rise of threats in the neighboring republics of Daghestan and Ingushetiya.
That policy may also lead to new problems in Chechnya itself, he says. Kadyrov’s current fight with Battalion East suggests that the Chechen president wants to “carry out the final centralization” of power there, something that involves “destroying all independent forces, not only of the separatists but of those loyal to Moscow.”
“In principle,” he continues, “this is a completely logical step because before this no single center of force existed in Chechnya not under Dudayev, nor under Yandarbiyev nor even more under Maskhadov,” but it could redound against Moscow if tensions were to increase for other reasons, such as a move on the “unrecognized” states.
That is because many of the militants who had been fighting in Chechnya have shifted their base of operations to the latter to republics, each of which is riven by religious and ethnic conflicts. The situation in Ingushetiya, Yarlykapov says, is especially dire and could explode if Moscow made any dramatic move on the “unrecognized” states.
While the ethnographer insists that the retirement of locally despised President Murat Zyazikov is unlikely, given his capacity as a survivor and the absence of alternatives attractive to Moscow, the reasons for considering Ingushetiya the next serious hotspot in the event of a new Moscow are “quite numerous.”
First, that republic, for all the years of its post-Soviet existence, has not had “normal borders,” not with Chechnya from which it broke or with North Ossetia with which is has along dispute. Second, its economy cannot provide jobs for its dense and burgeoning population. And third, its young people often look to the Chechen militants as a model.
“Continuing instability in Ingushetiya is extremely dangerous,” Yarlykapov continues, “Judging by recent events, the residents of the republic have gotten tired of the fact that problems in the republic are not being resolved but only getting worse.” And such feelings could help power a new explosion.
The situations in Daghestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, and other north Caucasus republics are more or less similar, the Moscow-based specialist on the region insists, something that members of the expert community are well aware of but a reality that some Russian politicians seem to be oblivious to.
And consequently, Yarlykapov concludes with the following observation and warning: “In the cases of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and also of Nagorno-Karabakh, it is obvious that the Kosovo precedent will not work. Therefore, it seems to [him] that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs will continue to be careful and not move to recognize their independence.
Instead of moving as some Russian politicians suggest toward “a gradual recognition of their independence,” he says, Moscow will work toward “the further strengthening of the influence of Russia in these strategically important regions.” To the extent that it does, it may be able to avoid the kind of conflicts that might call into question the Sochi Olympics.