Monday, July 13, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Nearly Half of All Russians Don’t Believe Moscow Controls the North Caucasus

Paul Goble

Vienna, July 13 – Forty percent of Russians say that Moscow does not control the situation in the North Caucasus, despite the claims of Russian government leaders and the upbeat coverage offered by the Russian media, according to the results of the latest poll conducted by the independent Public Opinion Foundation.
In its write up of these findings today, “Novaya izvestiya” suggests that this overall figure while worrisome may not be as significant as three others. First, the pollsters found that “the more informed [Russians were], the more pessimism they reported,” a pattern that suggests increased coverage of the region in the blogosphere may be having a major impact on attitudes.
Second, those Russians with the most direct knowledge of what is taking place in the North Caucasus – the residents of the Southern Federal District – are even more inclined than the country as a whole to say that Moscow does not now have effective control over the situation in the non-Russian republics of that region (
And third, the most pessimistically inclined of all are the residents of Moscow, probably the most informed and likely the most influential on what the Russian powers that be may do next. According to this poll, 60 percent of Muscovites are “certain that the powers that be are not able to cope with the situation in the North Caucasus.”
According to the paper’s Yevgeniya Zubchenko, the sociologists who conducted the poll believe that the proximate cause for such attitudes was the June 22nd assassination attempt against Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov. Eighty-five percent of Russians, more than eight out of ten, said they knew about this, far more than know about most news events.
But what is perhaps especially disturbing for the regime is despite promises by Moscow and local officials, only 28 percent of the Public Opinion Foundation sample said they believed that “the powers that be will be able to find the organizers of [this] terrorist action.” Forty-one percent said they did not believe that officials would do so.
Other results from the poll suggest that Russians are paying far more critical attention to the events in the North Caucasus than many in the central government or outsiders have assumed. Asked to identify the most unstable republics there, 60 percent pointed to Ingushetia, 50 percent to Daghestan, and 43 percent to Chechnya, a pattern that reflects expert assessments.
Zubchenko asked Valery Khomyakhov, the general director of the Moscow National Strategy Council for his assessment of the findings. He suggested that Russian attitudes reflected widespread concern that Moscow had ceded too much power to local governments and especially local security services.
“The role of the federal center must be strengthened,” the independent Moscow expert continued, because “far from all the representatives of local law enforcement organs are capable of carrying out those functions which are being laid on them.” But the idea that Russians should now devote more of their own lives and treasure to that region is problematic.
On the one hand, it flies in the face of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s policy of Chechenization, of giving local elites the freedom to control the situation in exchange for constant declarations of loyalty. And on the other, it ignores the war-weariness of an increasing share of the Russian population.
Two other articles which appeared in the Moscow media today speak to both of these issues. In the current “Ekspert,” Nikolay Silayev, that journal’s editor of the politics department, argues Moscow does not understand the nature of the challenge it faces and consequently is making things worse (
By constantly talking about underground militant groups, he continues, Moscow is suggesting that “all other problems – corruption, ineffective state administration, and poverty – are important only in so far as they interfere with the solution of the first. Moreover, it is implying that there is no alternative to using more force to address that issue.
But if one looks at the situation, Silayev continues, it is obvious that the band formations about which so many words have been said are “not capable of really destabilizing the situation in the Caucasus.” Both separatism and radical Islamism, he says, “have failed as political projects” now and for the foreseeable future.
Unfortunately, by focusing on these words, he says, Moscow has “not taken note of the ever more rapidly disintegration of all complex social structures there,” a development that suggests what is occurring in the North Caucasus is its “’Afghanization.’” Moscow has no strategy for opposing that, and as a result, the situation appears likely to grow worse.
And in an essay on the “Russkiy reporter” portal, Shura Burtin is equally blunt about Russia’s difficulties in coping with the situation in the North Caucasus, pointedly suggesting that “the events in the North Caucasus are developing according to the scenario of the militants” rather than that of Moscow (
After detailing the various reports of increased violence across the region, Burtin argues that what is taking place cannot be otherwise described than as “simply the escalation of military actions and the spread of war.” Unfortunately, he says, many Russian observers do not understand what they are being told.
They do not recognize that “reports about the liquidation of the latest batch of militants do not mean that the war will soon end but just the reverse. The militants are consciously seeking to exacerbate the situation … Their goal is a new Caucasus war. And the North Caucasus is slowly but surely moving in that direction.”

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