Vienna, January 29 – President Dmitry Medvedev’s unannounced – presumably for security reasons – 90-minute visit to Ingushetia was intended to show his support for the new regime in that unsettled North Caucasus republic, but instead it highlighted the limits of his and Moscow’s understanding of the region’s problems, according to a Moscow analyst.
In an essay on the Politcom.ru portal today, Sergey Markedonov, one of Russia’s most thoughtful commentators on ethnic politics in the region, points out that the president’s visit came shortly after the appointment of a new republic leader and shortly before the scheduled Congress of the People of Ingushetia (www.politcom.ru/article.php?id=7497).
The visit was intended both as an inspection of the new regime he installed and as an indication of Moscow’s support for improving the situation I that troubled republic, especially given the amount of federal funds he promised – some 29 billion rubles (nearly one billion US dollars) – over the next six years, three times the republic’s current annual budget.
But however much the new president may have hoped to highlight both his understanding of and support for a new day in Ingushetia, Markedonov writes, Medvedev’s remarks while there in fact underscored that he does not have a more sophisticated understanding of the region’s problems than his predecessor, although he is ready to adopt a somewhat different approach.
First of all, Markedonov notes, “the ex promtu visit of the president recalls rather too much the public relations efforts developed in Putin’s time.” Putin also made lightning trips to the Caucasus twice in 1999 and then in June 2004 and December 2005, but his visits seemed more about promoting his own image in the country as a whole than in solving problems.
Because of this history, the Moscow analyst says, the population is increasingly suspicious of anything that a Russian leader promises, especially since it appears so obvious to them that his words have little to do with them and everything to do with the leader’s standing in the Russian capital.
Markedonov gives as an example the campaign Putin announced in 2004 against terrorism. Initially, his call for more use of force enjoyed popular support, but it soon became clear that it was leading to uncontrolled actions by those in power and thus generated “disappointment and social frustration.”
Second, Medvedev’s reduction of the struggle against terrorism to a struggle against crime underscores his failure -- in common with his predecessor as Russian president -- to understand that while crime and terrorism share many characteristics, “the motivation, preconditions, and ‘cadres’ involved” are very, very different.
Because the two phenomena are so different, the tactics that work in dealing with the one do not work with the other. That is something Putin never understood or at least never said either, apparently out of the conviction that reducing terrorists to criminals was the best way of winning support for a hard line against both.
And third, Medvedev – and this is a shift in emphasis from Putin’s time – clearly believes that the best way to end terrorism is to increase the standard of living of the population by reducing unemployment. That can make a contribution, Markedonov acknowledges, but it is not enough, especially given the alienation from the Russian state many Ingush residents feel.
(While Markedonov does not cite it, Ingush President Yunus-bek Yevkurov pointedly told him that the reason for terrorism in his republic was “the distrust of the population toward the political system,” an attitude that will not be cured by reducing unemployment alone (www.izvestia.ru/russia/article3124515 and www.islamnews.ru/news-16921.html).
What is clearly needed, Markedonov says, and what Medvedev did not supply is a new ideology, one that will unite the population and give it confidence in the future. Without an understanding that the fight against terrorism is an ideological battle, he suggests, the Russian government like any other will find it difficult to carry out the battle let alone win it.
That is all the more so because governments that treat the struggle against terrorism from the perspective of economics or police work alone are likely to take steps that will make the situation they face far worse, a conclusion that is reinforced by two other decisions the central Russian government has made this week.
On the one hand, in the name of fighting Al-Qaeda, Moscow has announced that all people arriving at Moscow airports from anywhere in the north Caucasus will be subject to special searches, an arguably reasonable policy that many will see as evidence of ethnic or religious profiling interfax.ru, January 22, and www.islamnews.ru/news-16930.html).
And on the other, in the name of combating the current economic crisis, President Medvedev has called on Russian firms to hire Russians first, an appeal that is intended to benefit all citizens of the Russian Federation but one that almost certainly will be viewed by many in the north Caucasus as directed against them (rokf.ru/carera/2009/01/22/103810.html).