Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Window on Eurasia: A New Georgian War Could Destroy Russia the Way Afghan Conflict Did the USSR, Latynina Warns

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 12 – A new war with Georgia, something Russian officials and commentators are increasingly talking about, could have the same impact on the Russian Federation that the invasion of Afghanistan had on the USSR, according to Yuliya Latynina, a Moscow commentator who specializes on the Caucasus.
In an interview posted on the portal today, Latynina suggests this risk is all the greater because Moscow does not now control the republics of the North Caucasus within the borders of the Russian Federation and thus does not see how the problems arising from a new Georgian war could spread northward (
Latynina begins by pointing out that in the Caucasus as a whole at the present time “two different processes are taking place: the spread of rumors about a possible new war of Russia with Georgia and the escalation of the use of force at the same time in several republics of the Russian North Caucasus.”
The Russian powers that be, she continues, “constantly declare that [they] are concerned about a new attack by Georgia.” But what this “literally means” is that “’We are not against beginning yet another war.’” And she reminds that these “declarations” are being made when the news from Chechnya, Daghestan, and Ingushetia is truly disturbing.
According to Latynina, with the murder of human rights activist Natalya Estemirova, the situation in Chechnya has radically changed. “If before they killed enemies of the regime who fought against it with arms in their hands and even burned the homes of their families, now, [the powers that be in Chechnya] are beginning to kill the rights activists” who tell what is going on.
“[Russian President Dmitry] Medvedev and [Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin are powerless even to interfere in this situation,” the Kremlin critic says.
Meanwhile in Ingushetia and Daghestan, the security situations are equally dire but different. In the former, a civil war is continuing, one that began under former republic President Murat Zyazikov and that his successor Yunus-Bek Yevkurov has only been a little able so far to overcome.
And in Daghestan, she says, the republic leader Mukhu Aliyev has shown that he “is able ‘to divide up’ but is not able to rule,” with Islamist extremists receiving “large sums directly from the republic budget” and enjoying the protection of both officials and big business in that ethnically diverse region.
As for the breakaway republic of South Ossetia, the ostensible cause of the Russian-Georgian war a year ago, Latynina says that “Russia does not control” its president, cannot force him to stop the thieving or to begin reconstruction, and must deal with a population that has been kept “in the position of constant military hysteria.”
As a result, she suggests, it is tragically not unthinkable that there could in fact be a new war between Moscow and Tbilisi even though she argues that such a conflict would have every chance of “becoming for Russia that which the invasion of Afghanistan became for the USSR,” a step that would lead to the disintegration of Russia itself.
This entire region, she concludes is “like an old piece of fabric which is unraveling in various places.” And “to the extent that the fundamental causes [for this unraveling] are one and the same, then, even if there is no weakening of Russia, they could combine into a single conflagration.”
In her interview, Latynina does not mention what may be an even more disturbing reality about the relationship of the North Caucasus and the South Caucasus. Over the course of the last three centuries, Russia has never been able to control the former until and unless it controlled the latter, a pattern that points to still more crises ahead.
Unfortunately, fewer and fewer people are likely to have access to the kind of information they would need to understand that relationship or to do anything to overcome it before it is too late for both Russia and the Caucasus north and south.
On the one hand, as a new poll shows, half of all Russians say they cannot understand why the violence in the North Caucasus is increasing, with those who do either blaming unnamed “outside forces” opposed to Russian influence there or the struggle over oil and other natural resources (
And on the other, fewer news organizations are covering the conflicts on the ground. The latest to pull out is Moscow’s “Novaya gazeta” which, after blasting Moscow for appearing to have given out “a license for murder” to local elites, announced today that it was suspending the work of its journalists in Chechnya (

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