Vienna, August 8 – The violence between Russian and Georgian forces in South Ossetia both reflects and is likely to intensify an even more widespread and thus dangerous phenomenon across the region – the rise of “a new wave of radicalization” in the various ethnic communities there, itself the product of corruption, on the one hand, and public anomie, on the other.
On Wednesday, “Novaya gazeta” published an interview with Ruslan Aushev, the former president of Ingushetia (www.novayagazeta.ru/data/2008/57/02.html). Because the situation there is so dire – one Moscow analyst described it as “almost a civil war” (nvo.ng.ru/wars/2008-08-08/2_ingushetia.html) – few focused on the broader implications of Aushev’s remarks.
But the outbreak of fighting in South Ossetia and the likelihood that various actors – Moscow-backed regimes and radical opposition groups alike – will try to exploit the rapidly-evolving situation in the region to advance their various agendas, with the “extremist undergrounds” according to most observers having the greatest chance of success.
That analysts should have focused on the implications of Aushev’s remarks for Ingushetia is not surprising. On the one hand, levels of unemployment, corruption and violence are so high that its people have been driven to despair, gathering more than 100,000 signatures calling on Moscow to dismiss Murat Zyazikov as republic head and bring back Aushev.
And on the other, Aushev, himself a disciplined and decorated Russian officer, focused his remarks on those conditions and on why his return there could help resolve the problems rather than on the broader issues affecting not only Ingushetia, perhaps the most troubled now of the North Caucasus republics, but also the other non-Russian territories in the region.
But the events of the last few hours suggest that Aushev’s more general comments deserve far more attention. “No one wants to understand,” he told “Novaya gazeta,” “that the situation in the Caucasus has changed. This is a new wave of radicalization,” one involving young people who “no longer believe anyone.”
The young people, he continued, “see no justice around them. You want a position, pay; you want to be given medical treatment, show the money; you want to study, again give money. You go to the imam – and he is ready to read out any sermon you like, if you pay.” And that is true right up through the muftiates, Aushev says.
The young people tell such Muslim leaders that they do not believe them. “What kind of faith?” and “What kind of purity of religion” are you offering, they ask. And not finding anyone to believe in, they are “heading into the mountains. That’s true in Chechnya, in Ingushetia, in Karachay-Cherkessia” and Daghestan, too.
People in Moscow say if only we kill the right person, then “everything will quiet down.” But “Basayev is gone, Gelayev is gone, and Maskhadov is gone. And despite that nothing has been stopped.” Those who think they can address the problem by force alone, Aushev argued, are deceiving no one but themselves.
Obviously, the conflicts there may ebb and flow – weather is one factor, Aushev said, and the arrival of winter will calm things down, but thinking that this points to a resolution of the problems in the region is dangerously naïve. “In the Caucasus, there exists the strongest underground,” and it won’t go away by the application of force alone.