Vienna, June 17 –Moscow faces a serious problem in coping with the latest upsurge of violence across the North Caucasus: it wants to impose a single solution on what are in fact an extremely diverse set of conflicts, an approach that is making some if not all of the conflicts worse than might otherwise be the case, according to a leading Moscow analyst.
In an essay posted online yesterday, Sergei Markedonov argues that the Russian government’s failure to recognize the diversity lying what he suggests is a single and in many ways superficial commonality guarantees that these conflicts are not going to come to an end anytime soon (www.politcom.ru/article.php?id=6336).
Over the last week, all three republics of the eastern portion of the North Caucasus – Ingushetiya, Chechnya and Daghestan – were marked by an upsurge of violence, leading many in Moscow to assume that the Russian authorities must either do more of the same or try something new strategy across the board to “solve” the situation.
Given of any chance for broad public discussion of the challenges Moscow faces, Markedonov continues, few politicians and policy makers are prepared to analyze in a seirous way “the causes of the new instability and to consider its new moving forces” either at the level of ideology or practice.
Instead, discussions in the Russian capital remain locked in “a competition of two discourses,” one of which insists that “in the Caucasus [as a whole] everything is peaceful” and a second based on alarmist suggestions that “the Caucasus [as a whole] will soon secede” from the Russian Federation
Markedonov argues that the Russian authorities will only be able to make progress if they begin to talk “both about certain general challenges” that the region as a whole presents and at the same time “about serious distinctions” among the various republics and specific nations of the North Caucasus.
The common challenge is “radical Islam” and its opposition to traditional Sunni or Sufi groups there. And because the Russian government sees that challenge everywhere, it simultaneously tends to ignore other challenges and to apply the same approach – freedom of action for local elites in exchange for declarations of loyalty to the Kremlin and to Russia.
But that policy ignores the fact that Ingushetia and Daghestan were never separatist in the way that Chechnya was, that Chechnya has an effective if authoritarian regime while the government in Ingushetia is unpopular and that in Daghestan divided, and that the opposition is even more varied.
In Chechnya, the only real opposition is in the hills; in Ingushetia, it includes both Islamist and loyalist elements; and in Daghestan, the opposition reflects divisions religious, ethnic and territorial – within Daghestan and outside it –to which no one solution will work even within that republic.
The “price” of Moscow’s one-size-fits-all approach, Markedonov concludes, is growing particularism across the region, on the one hand, and the loss of Russian control both political and legal, on the other. And those two in turn are combining to ensure that violence will continue, rising in one place when it declines in another and vice versa.
But although Markedonov does not say so, the Russian government is not the only one advocating a single cure for what, as he shows, are some very different illnesses. Many activists in the region, for example, argue that only democracy will bring peace,possibly true in the long term but not necessarily in the short (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/newstext/news/id/1222476.html).
Others including many Russian nationalists say that the only solution is more repression (forum.msk.ru/material/news/489281.html). And still others, now that Vladimir Putin is no longer president, are pointing out that his Chechenization strategy has in no way solved Moscow’s Caucasus problems (www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=14691).
Markedonov’s argument for a variegated approach makes good sense, but it is far from clear that his views will be accepted in Moscow, most of whose leaders seem committed to a single policy line however much such an approach guarantees that Russia will face even more problems in that region.