Saturday, September 18, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Latest Efforts at Ethnic Engineering in the North Caucasus Backfire

Paul Goble

Staunton, September 18 – Moscow’s plans to address unemployment in the North Caucasus by dispatching non-Russians from that region to other parts of the Russian Federation are already sparking anger and denial, while the center’s hope to move ethnic Russians into the North Caucasus to hold that region for Moscow appear likely to fail or spark even more violence.
Last Monday, the news agency published a facsimile of a document prepared by Aleksandr Khloponin, the presidential plenipotentiary for the North Caucasus, which showed that Moscow plans to send 3,000 to 40,000 unemployed North Caucasians to other parts of the Russian Federation (
That report sparked outrage in various Russian media outlets, many of whom indicated that North Caucasians would not be welcome in predominantly ethnic Russian regions where “people of Caucasus nationality” are often viewed as fundamentally “alien,” competitors for scarce jobs who depress wages, and the source of violent crimes.
In an attempt to quiet the storm, Khloponin issued a strong denial, denouncing as “a provocation” suggestions that Moscow plans to do what the document he had signed says it intends. And the agency says that “the resettlement [of North Caucasians] is all the same planned. Naturally, on a voluntary and possibly provisional basis.”
Consequently, what Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev hoped would be a means to improving the socio-economic situation in the North Caucasus and thus the security situation there appears to be having the opposite effect by highlighting Russian hostility to the North Caucasians and making it ever less likely that Moscow will be able to persuade them to move.
Meanwhile, another Moscow plan – to dispatch ethnic Russians to the North Caucasus in order to shift the ethnic balance there and hold this region for the Russian Federation – is also having an effect very different than the Russian powers that be clearly hoped it would have when they came up with it (
On the one hand, the program not only called attention to Russian flight from the region – the percentage of the population of Chechnya and Ingushetia fell made up by ethnic Russians fell from 29 percent in 1979 to 3 percent in 2002 but also to the hostility of the non-Russians to what many in that region see as representatives of the imperial center.
And on the other, because of Moscow’s simultaneous effort to send non-Russians from that region to predominantly ethnic Russian regions in order to cure unemployment, the ethnic Russians Moscow hopes to attract to go there know that they are certain to face difficulties in finding good jobs in the North Caucasus and that Moscow is doing this only for political reasons.
But Moscow’s plans are likely to provoke a negative response among non-Russians in the North Caucasus. That is because Moscow plans to offer the ethnic Russians special access to jobs, quotas in local universities and special access to positions in government service in that region.
If Moscow in fact does that, the advantages ethnic Russians will be offered cannot fail to reduce the opportunities for members of local nationalities, a trend that some of the latter will certainly view as another example of ethnic discrimination and lead at least a few of them to join with anti-Moscow militants.
And the intensification of such attitudes among both ethnic Russians and non-Russians will only accelerate the shift to “mono-ethnic” republics in the North Caucasus, something that will make it ever more difficult for Moscow to control the situation just as the declining share of ethnic Russians in the non-Russian union republics at the end of the Soviet period did then.
That historical example perhaps explains why Moscow is committed to both forms of ethnic engineering in the North Caucasus, but especially in the more open media environment, at least on the Internet, means that every step the central Russian powers that be takes is likely to prove even more counterproductive than the ones Soviet leaders took decades ago.

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