Thursday, September 11, 2008

Window on Eurasia: New Moscow Policies Likely to Spread Ethnic Conflicts Beyond Hot Spots

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 11 – Even as Moscow seeks to find a way to prevent Ingushetia from exploding and as the Koryaks protest his having forced them to combine with Kamchatka, Russian officials have proposed three new policies likely to spark ethnic conflicts in places across the Russian Federation that have not had them before.
Prime Minister Putin met with embattled Ingush president Murad Zyazikov this week to discuss not the opposition but the murder there of Zyazikov’s political opponent Magomed Yevloyev, an action that has increased tensions there to the point that they threaten to spark a new wave of violence (
“Whoever turns out to be guilty of this crime,” according to, “the Kremlin has few reasons for satisfaction.” If it is the opposition, then Zyazikov doesn’t control the situation. If he is, Putin must decide on his future. And if it is the Islamists, as Zyazikov claims,, then Moscow will have to do something quickly “lest the entire Caucasus explode.”
Meanwhile, Ludmila Alekseyeva, Russia’s senior human rights activist, said in a Deutsche Welle interview that tensions between Zyazikov and the opposition are so high that “a mass bloodletting” is possible (,,3634273,00.html?maca=rus-yandex_new_comments-325-xml).
And Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov added that his republic, given its vast “counter-terrorism experience,” was prepared to send forces to Ingushetia to help stabilize the situation, an action that if Moscow were to permit it almost certainly would have precisely the opposite effect on Ingushetia and the region (
As Ingushetia was heating up in the North Caucasus, Moscow got another warning of ethnic problems, this time from the Russian Far East. The Koryaks, who were forced by Putin’s policy of regional amalgamation to combine with Kamchatka kray, issued an appeal saying that “the destruction of Koryakia had brought misfortunes to the Koryaks.”
The appeal which was sent to senior Russian officials last week but only posted on a central Moscow portal today called for giving the Koryak district a special status, effectively reversing what Putin wanted to do and calling into question further regional amalgamation efforts (
Among the points the appeal made were that since amalgamation, the special bureaucracy set up to defend Koryak rights had not been given sufficient authority to function, the radio programs in Koryak they had have been dropped from the airwaves, and programs to support public health and other community services have collapsed.
Moreover, it continued, “the residents of the district have become hostages of the airline companies which are monopolists” in a position to raise prices at will and cut one part of the Koryak community off from another, and the Kamchatka regime has appointed people to office in Koryakia without “a deep study of [their] cadre potential.
But instead of focusing all its efforts on resolving these problems, various members of the Russian government this week have proposed three new measures that almost certainly will spark new ethnic conflicts in cities and regions across the Russian Federation that have been relatively quiet up to this point.
First, the Duma yesterday approved a measure to restore government financing of the national cultural autonomies, a step that if taken will lead more ethnic groups – including migrant groups – to organize and demand funds from the central government and thus give them the chance to advance new demands (
Second, Dmitry Kozak, the regional development minister, said that Moscow plans to increase substantially the amount of money Moscow will devote over the next seven years to resettle people from the far north into more climatically moderate zones and to provide them with housing (
While some people will benefit from this program, it almost certainly will create new problems. On the one hand, it will further depopulate regions, where there is already a labor shortage, and thus invite the arrival of more gastarbeiters from further afield such as Central Asia or China, thus raising tensions there.
On the other, this move will increase the ethnic diversity of some Russian cities by introducing more non-Russian residents from the North, people who are increasingly worried about their own loss of cultural identity and likely to be increasingly vocal in defending their rights as they become more concentrated.
And third, Vice Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said that in order to promote industrial development in Siberia and the Far East, Moscow was thinking about lifting all quota restrictions on migrants who may be willing to go there, an action that could also increase the share of migrants and the likelihood of conflict (

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