Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Cossacks Want a Russian North Caucasus in Place of ‘Bankrupt’ Republics

Paul Goble

Vienna, July 14 – In a move that springs from Vladimir Putin’s push to amalgamate federal subject but that will do little to calm ethnic tensions in Russia, the Terek Cossacks have called for the restoration of Russian-dominated North Caucasus region that would subsume most of the non-Russian republics in that area.
Mikhail Inkavtsov, the Terek ataman, says that the Terek Cossacks agreed to this idea at a July 7th meeting of the Terek Cossack Host and that lawyers for that organization are currently drafting a formal proposal that will be sent to the Russian State Duma for consideration (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/156573).
According to Inkavtsov, the restored Terek oblast would subsume Kabardino-Balkaria, Chechnya, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Daghestan and part of Stavropol kray. As far as Adygeya and Karachayevo-Cherkessia are concerned, the Terek Cossacks believe they should be absorbed by the Kuban.
In support of this idea, Inkavtsov offers economic, political and ethnic arguments. First, he points out, in tsarist times, “the Terek oblast was a very wealthy region.” That prompted the Bolsheviks to destroy it, and their actions, he argues, were responsible for the rise of “territorial problems in the Caucasus.”
At present, he notes, “all the subjects of the North Caucasus are subsidized [by the central Russian government]. They are in a deep social-economic crisis, and there is a clan system in power.” As a result, Inkavtsov suggests, they ought to be declared “bankrupt” and “external rule should be introduced.”
Second, the ataman continues, the current situation in which there are “titular and non-titular nations,” something introduced by the Bolsheviks but that has assumed even more importance in post-Soviet times, must be abolished if nationalist explosions in this region are to be contained.
And third, Inkavtsev says, the formation of this region is necessary to prevent the continuing outflow of the Russian speaking population, whose departure has already contributed to the collapse of industry and whose further decline will only encourage non-Russian ethno-national movements.
The Cossack ataman concedes that this idea “has not been discussed with or agreed upon by a single national social movement” in the republics he proposes to include. And a survey of the opinion of some of them by Kavkaz-uzel.ru suggests there is relatively little enthusiasm for the step Inkavtsov is proposing.
On the one hand, Sufyan Beppayev, the leader of the Balkar Alan Movement, said that “it is one thing to expand the size of regions in the Far East; it is quite another to do so in the [ethnically diverse and already unsettled] North Caucasus.” At the very least, he said, any changes should be subject to a popular referendum.
And on the other, Mukhammed Khafitse, the head of the Kabardinian section of Adyge Khase, was more definite. Such a step now or in the future is “impossible,” he said. “These times have passed, and now the situation is different.” Moreover, he suggested, this amalgamation would not “assist the resolution of a single one of the existing problems.”
Such opposition likely means that Moscow will not respond positively to the Terek Cossack proposal, although at least some in the central Russian government are likely to find Inkavtsov’s arguments convincing and deploy them as an implicit threat of what Moscow might do if regional leaders do not toe the line.
But this proposal is exacerbating a problem the central Russian government cannot be pleased about: non-Russian proposals for redrawing borders in the region. Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov’s call for recombining Ingushetia with his republic has attracted the most attention from the Moscow media, but it is far from the most radical idea out there.
That belongs to Circassian youth groups, who, while invoking the idea of “One People-One Name-One Future,” are pressing their elders to seek a restored Circassia, one that would embrace all or parts of Adygeya, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Krasnodar kray and Stavropol kray (www.radioadiga.com/ClosedIndex/artikkk.php?ind=3174).
That idea too likely to find little support among other groups, but the appearance of the Cossack idea, especially in the wake of continued speculation that Putin would like to restart his amalgamation campaign, guarantees that both will get more attention and further exacerbate ethnic feelings not only in the North Caucasus but across the Russian Federation.

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