Vienna, November 3 – Some analysts and officials argue that Moscow must use more even more force to stem the rising tide of violence in the North Caucasus. Others say that the Russian government should focus instead on improving the economic and social situation in that region through massive aid projects.
But on Moscow analyst, Oleg Shabrov, is arguing that neither of these approaches will work and that even a combination of the two will fail unless Moscow makes political changes allowing for open competition for the top posts. If it doesn’t, he says, the situation there will deteriorate there and could easily spread (www.ng.ru/ng_politics/2009-11-03/14_east.html).
In an article in “Nezavisimaya gazeta” today, Shabrov, who is president of the Moscow Academy of Political Science, says that there is a growing sense that after a deceptive calm over the last several years, “the social-political stability in the Russian Caucasus is again under threat.”
And there are growing fears, he suggests, that any “destabilization in [that region] could become the detonator for analogous processes throughout Russia as a whole.” Given that, Shabrov says, it is critically important that Russian analysts and officials both understand why there are problems and what various approaches will mean for their solution.
Many in Moscow have been inclined to blame the problems in the Caucasus on shadowy “foreign forces” and to believe that the use of force can solve these problems. But, Shabrov insists, “one cannot guarantee stability for long by force alone.” Other methods are clearly necessary, but there is disagreement about just what they should be.
Rights activists, he points out, argue and “not without basis” that many people in the North Caucasus are going into the forests to fight against Moscow because of the brutal behavior of officers in the force structures, and some Russian politicians believe, again with justification, that Moscow needs to address poverty and the collapse of social services there.
But even if the powers that be carry out both of these recommendations, Shabrov argues, that will not be enough to solve the problem. Instead, the Russian government must recognize that its own policies regarding politics in the region are more than a little responsible for the opposition Moscow now faces.
He points to three areas in which this is true. First, all too often, the central government has continued the divide-and-rule policies of its predecessor, playing one ethnic group off against another. Thus, Moscow has sought to use the Chechens against other ethnic groups, a policy that has the effect of making many of the latter even more antagonistic to the Russian side.
That is because, Shabrov says, in the North Caucasus, none of the groups have ever been willing to tolerate the domination of one people over another and Moscow’s increasing tilt to Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov as a stabilizing force for the region will have precisely the opposite results that the central government intends.
Second, Russia’s social and economic policies have destroyed the traditionalist and Soviet-era structures without putting anything in their place. The result has been increasing alienation given the absence of services and the increasing income differentiation often among groups rather than just within them.
And third, in its drive to create a power vertical in the country as a whole, Moscow has pushed the governments of the North Caucasus to opt for a closed, authoritarian politics, in which United Russia wins Soviet-style victories and in which the normal divisions within a political system are frozen out.
The central Russian government apparently believes that if it freezes these opposing voices out, they will stay frozen, and Moscow may be right about that in ethnic Russian regions of the country. But in the North Caucasus, those who cannot take part in within-system political competition have an option: they can go into the hills and fight.
Across this region, Shabrov suggests, Moscow’s willingness to support authoritarian regimes who promise to deliver the vote for the party of power and to sing the praises of United Russia has thus had exactly the opposite effect that the authors of this policy intended and promised.
“Without the resolution of [such] political problems” -- and “the chief among them” in the North Caucasus is providing possibilities for “dialogue of the opposing sides” -- neither those republics nor Moscow will be able to escape from the “existing” situation where the trends are all pointing in the wrong direction from Moscow’s point of view.
On the one hand, if Moscow creates a situation in the North Caucasus in which there is no chance for genuine political discussion at the republic level, those who want a radical solution will become more numerous. After all, many there are likely to say, “why do we need a Center of this kind?”
And on the other, the consequences of the power vertical seen in the North Caucasus could easily spread to other parts of the country, with ever more people asking why they should support a political system that gives them no possibility of having a voice in decisions made about them.