Friday, August 21, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russia Trapped in Vicious Circle in the Caucasus, Radzikhovsky Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 21 – Because of the nature of society in “the so-called ‘Russian’ Caucasus,” Moscow cannot “control” that region, but because of the fears of the Russian political elite and the need that region has for assistance, it will be “impossible” for Russia to allow that region to become independent, according to a leading Moscow commentator.
And consequently, Leonid Radzikhovsky says, Moscow has few prospects for escaping from “the bloody circle of the Caucasus” and so must resign itself to “put up with” and “pay for” the people there for a long time to come, even though millions of Russians would be happy to see the region go its own way and spare them the costs of keeping it within Russia’s borders.
In his Ekho Moskvy blog, the publicist says that “NO ONE CAN EXPLAIN ANYTHING” about what is going on in that region, why people who need money from Moscow are fighting against the Russian center, or perhaps most important why all this has failed to agitate Russians more than it has (
Radzikhovsky presents his arguments on these points via a classical Hegelian dialectic: thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. His thesis is that however much the Kremlin says otherwise, “RUSSIA DOES NOT CONSIDER THE CAUCASUS AS ITS OWN.” The region has “different ethnic groups, a different religion, different customs and a different way of life.”
For Russians, he continues, “Ukraine is viewed in terms of all these measures as more ‘our own.’” As to the Caucasus, “everyone knows that Russian laws do not operate in those districts and that a Russian not having a super-reliable ‘roof’ [protection] will avoid going there to trade work, relax or for any other reason.”
But everyone also knows “that ‘we’ are paying ‘them’ tribute!” in order that “the citizens of the North Caucasus just like the citizens of the Russian Federation, like people from Novgorod or Tula, can freely move about the Russian Federation and now be ‘illegal immigrants’[and can] ‘elect deputies’ to the Duma.”
Russia has been able to distance itself “one way or another from all the ALIEN parts [of the Russian Empire] and from all the republics of the [former] USSR.” But it has not been able to do the same with the North Caucasus, which remains “alien” but very much part of the country’s political and psychological geography.
“There are no polls on the issue of ‘the separation of the Caucasus,’” Radzikhovsky notes. “No one has been able to conduct them … But the ATTITUDE of millions and perhaps tens of millions of [ethnic] Russians” are prepared to say to themselves “Oh well, IF ONLY [THAT REGION] WOULD GO AWAY!”
Some would justify this as a matter of “justice”: ‘The Caucasus for the Caucasians. But then well Russia … well, let it not be for [ethnic] ‘Russians’ … but for those who accept Russian rules, laws, customs and so on. And who does not want to accept them -- well,” as Radzikhovsky notes, “forgive me but…”
Such an attitude is widespread, he continues. “IT COULD NOT BE OTHERWISE” because it is an example of “crude by health sense, if you will.” To anyone who says this is not the case, Radzikhovsky replies, his answer is: “Will anyone risk saying that there are NO such attitudes in Russia?”
The Ekho Moskvy writer’s antithesis, however is that “the separation of the North Caucasus from Russia is IMPOSSIBLE” whether “just” or “unjust.” It is impossible legally because there is no analogue to Lenin’s provision for the self-determination of the union republics, the arrangement that allowed the USSR to disintegrate so quickly and easily.
It is impossible politically because “not a single leader of Russia will EVER give encouragement to the FLOWERING of separatism within Russia.” If Moscow were to grant it to one republic, where would it end? “To encourage separatism among the neighbors is one thing; to do so inside the country is another matter entirely.”
Moreover, separatism would “only MULTIPLY Russia’s problems” in that region. “An ‘independent Ichkeria’ would not live its own separate life. The kidnapping of Russian citizens, a pirate kingdom on the border, and then a campaign in Daghestan … Would it be good for Israel to live next to an independent Palestine?”
And the separation of the North Caucasus is impossible morally. Even those who think they would favorite it “would be shocked” the next day. “The sense of ‘the demise and disintegration of Russia’ would become general and would give birth to the most difficult moral-political crisis in ‘the Russia that remained.’”
What then is the synthesis if it is “impossible to control” the North Caucasus and equally “impossible to separate it out?” According to Radzikhovsky, the answer is that it is necessary to “TOLERATE” the situation and to continue to “PAY.” Putting the region “in order” is beyond Russia’s capacity, and continuing to pay is less expensive than letting the region go.
But that is cold comfort because the continuing problems the region and its peoples present are so great. “Cleaning this [bloody Caucasus] circle is impossible. But Russia is so large,” Radzikhovsky concludes, “that compared to it, [the North Caucasus] is not so much a big circle as a little one.”

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