Staunton, August 17 – After months of talking about using economic development to cure the problems of the North Caucasus and clearly fearful that continuing violence could disrupt the 2014 Sochi Olympics, President Dmitry Medvedev reportedly is planning to strike the militants with the combined forces of the siloviki, pro-Moscow mullahs, and ethnic elders.
In today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” journalists Elina Bilevskaya and Aleksandr Samarin cite government sources as saying that Medvedev is planning to create a new combined shock force to combat and ultimately destroy the Wahhabi militants and achieve the peace that has eluded Moscow there to date (www.ng.ru/politics/2010-08-17/3_kavkaz.html).
According to these sources, the journalists say, the Kremlin leader’s intention is to achieve “the unification of the siloviki, the regional powers that be and local religious authorities with the elders councils [of various ethnic groups] in order to create a shock force” capable of eliminating Wahhabism as a threat.
The “Nezavisimaya gazeta” journalists do not provide any details on just how that combination would be achieved or exactly how it would work, but they do provide some tantalizing suggestions of what Moscow’s policy in the region may come to look like at least in general terms.
One source in the bureaucracy told the journalists that a major focus of the effort would be to ensure that the republic governments would support local businessmen so that the latter would not feel compelled to pay “tribute” to the militants, thereby eliminating a major source of their revenues.
Another source suggested that the program would involve developing “good relations” with Muslim leaders, whose religious authority would allow them to counter the appeals of the Wahhabis, especially among young people. And still a third pointed to plans for strengthening ties between the republic leaders and the heads of the ethnic elders councils.
Whether this effort will work and whether it will lead Moscow to yield even more power to republic leaders as it has to Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov remains to be seen, but Medvedev’s tilt toward the use of force appears to recognize, one analyst said, that “it is impossible to cope with the situation [in the North Caucasus] by social and economic measures alone.”
Igor Yurgens, the head of the Moscow Institute of Contemporary Development, continued by observing that the Olympics is rapidly approaching, attacks against it are likely, and the radicalization of Islam is continuing, trends that leave Moscow and Medvedev little choice but to use more force even as it talks about political and economic measures as well.
And that in turn suggests, although neither Yurgens nor the “Nezavisimaya gazeta” journalists say so, that Medvedev appears ready to follow the path Vladimir Putin has long promoted. In the short term, that suggests there will be more violence in the North Caucasus, even though there is no guarantee that such force will achieve its goals.