Staunton, September 25 – Moscow has failed to stabilize the North Caucasus or even reduce the threats to Russian sovereignty and control there, a “Segodnya” commentator says, because it has failed to stem the flight of ethnic Russians from the region, the very people who he argues provide the glue that holds the country together.
Instead, Petr Ivanchenko argues in yesterday’s paper, the central powers that be have sought to buy friends from within the local elites, either through massive spending which quickly disappears into corrupt pockets or through the offer of more or less unrestricted autonomy in exchange for declarations of loyalty. Neither tactic has worked.
And consequently, he suggests, Moscow should again rely, as the tsarist and to a lesser extent the Soviet authorities did, on ethnic Russian and Cossack communities there, protecting those that remain and encouraging others to return in order to ensure that the center will in fact control the North Caucasus (www.segodnia.ru/index.php?pgid=2&partid=10&newsid=12565).
But while Ivanchenko acknowledges in his essay that many non-Russians blame all their problems on “the Russians,” largely because of what he calls “Wahhabi propaganda,” he fails to consider whether a Moscow policy which relied on the ethnic Russians might provoke even more resistance from non-Russians in that unstable region.
Although the Russian leadership has not been shy about using force – in fact, it appears to have launched major operations in Daghestan and Chechnya this weekend – Moscow currently is placing its bets on providing more jobs for people there, self-confidently believing that “unemployment is the root of all evils” in the North Caucasus.
That is the thrust of the new Strategy of Development of the North Caucasus Federal District Up to 2025 that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Presidential Plenipotentiary Aleksandr Khloponin have been pushing, Ivanchenko continues, but there is no reason to think that such an approach will work any better than the ones Moscow has tried before.
Not only is it “unclear how such programs can be achieved under conditions of terror and general fear” – Ivanchenko notes that as far as tourism is concerned, “militants in Kabardino-Balkaria have already begun the intentional murder of vacationers” – but the enormous sums of money Moscow plans to spend will simply disappear.
(What is truly perverse, he notes, is that in the preamble to the Strategy, its authors acknowledge that the money Moscow has spent up to now has not had a positive effect.” But then, “as we see, the new strategic concept proposes practically the same thing … to be carried out by “the very same people” who up to now have not used the money as intended.)
What should be obvious to everyone, the “Segodnya” commentator says, is that the ground has not been prepared in the North Caucasus for such projects. Instead, Moscow will spend money, officials in the North Caucasus will pocket it, and the Russian Federation will still face threats to its sovereign control of that region.
Ivanchenko notes that the Americans are beginning to learn that in Afghanistan. They thought they had been able to “purchase the loyalty” of their opponents. But that hasn’t worked, just as it did not work for the Russian Federation after the Khasavyurt peace accord with Chechnya signed by then Security Council deputy head Boris Berezovsky.
“Money from the Russian budget will find its way into the pockets of the local political elite which does not have any influence on the terrorists and cannot improve the situation,” Ivanchenko says. And thus it will do nothing to dissuade “many Caucasians” from blaming Moscow and the ethnic Russians for their problems.
The continuing thievery and corruption of regional leaders whom Stalin would have called at best “’our sons of bitches’” had been pushing ever more people in Moscow to accept the idea that the only way out is to allow local leaders to do whatever they want as long as they keep the peace and constantly declare their loyalty to Moscow.
That is what Moscow has done in Chechnya, but while the declarations of loyalty continue, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has not been able to maintain order even in his home village. Moreover, the militants can attack his capital at any time, and Chechen criminals can operate far beyond “the borders of this ‘reservation.’”
Given that reality, Ivanchenko continues, it is time to look for another solution to the problem, and he offers his: increasing reliance on and the reinforcement of the ethnic Russian community still in the North Caucasus in the ways that both the tsarist regime and the Soviet authorities did in the past.
Ethnic Russians and Cossacks, he suggests, are precisely the people who can cope with the situation in the North Caucasus if they are supported. And he quotes with approval Soviet Marshal Ivan Bagramyan’s observation that “if in a military unit, there are fewer than 50 percent ethnic Russians, then it should be reformed because it would not be militarily capable.”
That “formulation,” Ivanchenko suggests, “must be applied not only in the military sphere.”
What is instructive, he continues, is that “even the authors” of the North Caucasus strategy document point out that “one of the causes of the existing problems is the outflow of the Christian population from the Caucasus,” a view that has its roots in Putin’s 1999 declarations about “the genocide of Russians” in Chechnya.
His remarks gave some Russians hope a decade ago, but then “the Kremlin decided to promote ‘the Chechenization’ of the conflict, and about the genocide none of the leaders of the country spoke anymore.” But it is time, the Russian commentator says, to remember precisely this, instead of throwing good money after bad and relying on purchased “friends.”