Friday, April 25, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Kremlin’s Regional Amalgamation Plan Threatens North Caucasus Nations

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 25 – Moscow’s renewed plan to combine regions in the North Caucasus either with neighboring Russian ones or with each other threatens the survival of the national communities there and is leading some of their members to think about independence as the only way to save their peoples from extinction.
In an impassioned appeal posted on the portal this week, Magomet Barakhoyev, an Ingush activist, argues that the Russian government’s plans to amalgamate regions in the North Caucasus are in fact a plan for the total “russification” of non-Russian groups there and elsewhere (
Indeed, he says, it is precisely the threat of russification that is pushing Ukraine and Georgia “while they are still sovereign” to seek to join NATO and thus have a chance to maintain their national languages and cultures, a drive that Barakhoyev implies peoples in the North Caucasus should learn from.
The Ingush writer begins his argument with a discussion of an article by Ruslan Gorevoy in the latest issue of Moscow’s “Versiya” newspaper devoted to the “fusion” of regions in the Russian Federation in general and in the North Caucasus in particular, including combining Adgyeia and Krasnodar kray and Chechnya and Ingushetiya.
But those moves, which many people in both the region and in Moscow have been resisting, are only the first step toward something even larger, Gorevoy says and Barakhoyev cites. Ultimately, Russia will have only “six or seven” super-regions, and one of them will be a “Cossack Kray” centered on Rostov-na-Donu.
According to Gorevoy, the folding of Adygeia into Krasnodar kray is a test of this strategy, and after that happens, he continues, Moscow will create the Cossack region, which in the words of Dmitry Kozak will be charged with putting the non-Russian regions of the North Caucasus “in order.”
That should frighten anyone who knows anything about the history of the Cossacks in the North Caucasus, Barakhoyev insists. During the Russian conquest of the North Caucasus, the Cossacks were “the real band formations,” “bandits in law,” or to use contemporary language “illegal armed formations.”
And the Cossacks have continued to act in this way in post-Soviet times, often acting brutally toward non-Russian groups even as they are given more and more power by Moscow and the local Russian authorities. If they were formally put in charge of the non-Russians, Barakhoyev says, that would be an even greater tragedy than the one North Caucasians face now.
With the liquidation of the non-Russian republics or their combination into multi-national ones – such as the restoration of some kind of Chechen-Ingush republic as a half-way house to a Cossack kray – national languages would lose the status of state languages and the peoples involved would lose their identities.
Barakhoyev knows whereof he speaks. He lived through the unification and then the liquidation of the Chechen-Ingush republic, and he remembers when the indigenous languages were displaced by Russian often on the basis of ostensibly “rational” arguments about the need to give people the tools to integrate in the broader society.
Given such threats, he continues, it is no surprise that Georgia – part of whose territory is already occupied by Russia under the “pretext” of defending Abkhaz and Ossetins -- and Ukraine – where there are “Russian splitters” -- should be seeking NATO membership. After all, “what guarantee is there that Russia won’t do to them what Stalin did to the Baltic states?”
Obviously, there is no way to know how widespread such feelings now are in the North Caucasus, but Barakhoyev’s article, which is posted on the most widely read Ingush website, is certain to spark debate and possibly crystallize opinion still further against any moves to combine regions there.
And to the extent that happens, Moscow may discover that it will have even more difficulty in moving against Adygeiya this year than it did a year ago, when the combination of local opposition and anger among Circassians abroad combined to force the central Russian government to back away from its amalgamation plans.

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