Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Yevkurov Case Undercuts Moscow’s Claims of Progress in North Caucasus

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 24 – The attempted assassination of the Ingush president is forcing Russians to “look the truth in the face,” according to many Moscow news outlets, and recognize that the situation in the North Caucasus is deteriorating at least in part because the Kremlin has failed to correctly diagnose the nature of the problem and continues to take counterproductive actions.
“Moskovsky komsomolets” was typical. It headlined its report “The drowned have emerged from the outhouse,” a not so subtle reference to Vladimir Putin’s promise nine years ago to put an end to the Chechen challenge by crushing the militants through the application of massive military force (
That paper’s Yuliya Kalinina noted pointed out that “the more militants [Moscow] kills, the more militants there become,” and she said that the time had come to “look truth in the face and call things by their correct names,” however bitter that may be and however much doing so will require a correction in Moscow’s thinking and approach.
“The truth is that in the Caucasus an underground is operating,” she writes. “It unites a multitude of people, young and old, rich and poor, educated and illiterate. All these people have an idea, and for the sake of it, they [are prepared to] blow themselves up because to die for that idea is considered by them to be the highest honor and the main goal.”
To assume as Moscow does that Russian “can destroy an idea by the physical liquidation of its supporters is useless. As a result, they only become more numerous,” and the “15-year-long history of the struggle of the Kremlin with the Wahhabis [in the North Caucasus and elsewhere] is the best evidence of that.”
And Moscow is deceiving itself in another way by suggesting that the problems are confined to one or another republic. In fact, Kalinina notes, there is now an underground “in all the North Caucasus republics, including North Ossetia,” the result of Russian actions in Chechnya that led to its rapid spread.
And the danger has not only spread but grown into “something entirely new.” Moscow does not face “Dudayev separatists,” with whom Moscow might have been able to reach some kind of agreement but rather with people “with whom one will never be able to reach an agreement.”
According to Kalinina, “only one individual in a million” might be effective as a president of a North Caucasus republic, but tragically, she continues, “in the Kremlin, they do not know that in the Caucasus now a special kind of leader is needed.” They think that this or that step will do, not recognizing that they and the country face “a tsunami.”
The Russian government, she suggests, does not understand that it is fighting an enemy powered by an idea and consequently continues to take actions which do not lead to victory but only a false show of success which has the effect of underscoring their and the country’s weaknesses and hence of inspiring the underground.
Other news outlets echoed this pessimism if not this specific interpretation. “Vremya novostei” carried the headline “this war will not end,” noting that “the terrorist underground in the Caucasus exists independently from ‘big names’ of their leaders,” however little Moscow and the Russian public want to admit (
Indeed, that paper says, “the physical liquidation of the ‘big’ field commanders has importance only if the movement they began has not yet been converted into an independently regenerating social process, which is developing a broad network.” In many cases, however, that Rubicon has already been crossed, and “the net has become more important than the leader.”
But the paper’s Ivan Sukhov points out, there are two other factors which make Moscow’s task even more difficult than Moscow has wanted to admit. On the one hand, the underground casts itself as Muslim, and however different its view of Islam is from other believers in the region, it inevitably attracts more or less automatic sympathy from them.
And on the other, “the average age” of the militants is now “closer to 18 than to 30,” something that means the core of the underground is so different from the generation that now dominates Chechnya and the rest of the North Caucasus that there is little chance for dialogue or understanding.
Examples of such withering criticism of Moscow’s conceptual and policy failures in the region could be multiplied almost at will, but there has been another set of articles that seeks to go beyond criticism to an analysis of the situation on which a new and potentially more effective policy might be based.
An example of that is an article in “Novaya gazeta” by Akhmet Yarlykapov, a specialist on the North Caucasus at the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, who argues that it is important to understand both the general trends of development in that region over the last 20 years and the specifics of each republic (
Across the region, he notes, the basis for radical opposition to existing political arrangements has shifted from ethno-nationalism to religion as a result of both the disappointment young people have experienced with politics and the actions of leaders who view Islam as a more effective mobilizing tool.
Within Ingushetia, this transition has been accelerated by the anger many people there feel about “the harsh methods of the work of local and federal siloviki and other representatives of Moscow.” And today the Ingush underground is even more driven by a desire to achieve two main goals.
First of all, they want to do whatever is necessary “to preserve [their] movement,” something they have achieved by transforming it into “network structures.” And then, as the attack on Yevkurov shows, they want to “demonstrate their ability to commit serious actions” in the pursuit of their ideological goals.
If the Russian powers that be could understand the nature of their opponents, they might be able to counter them. But the evidence at present is that Moscow and its local backers do not and are thus likely to continue to pursue policies that will fulfill Sukhov’s prediction that the war there “will not end.”

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