Staunton, October 7 – Most commentators on the newly approved “Strategy for the Social-Economic Development of the North Caucasus Federal District out to 2025” have focused on its plan to dispatch ethnic Russians to the region and non-Russians from that region to other parts of the Russian Federation.
While many of them support the idea of reversing ethnic Russian flight from that region, few appear to believe that Moscow or the governments in the region will be able to do that. And overwhelmingly, these Russian analysts have expressed concern about the impact of the arrival of even more “persons of Caucasus nationality” into the center of Russia.
Moreover, the reluctance of most Russians to move to a region they see as still extremely unsettled and their opposition to additional gastarbeiters in Russian cities and towns means that in the short term at least the Russian powers that be are unlikely to be able to achieve much in either of these areas.
But one Russian analyst, Konstantin Novikov, has focused on an aspect of this program that Moscow does appear likely to implement -- even though it is certain to lead to a further deterioration of ethnic relations in the North Caucasus and possibly to intensify violence there
Novikov argues that as part of what he calls “Governor General Khloponin’s pacification strategy” – the complete text of that 25,000-word document is available online at government.ru/media/2010/10/4/35578/file/1485.doc -- Moscow will replace local non-Russian officials with ethnic Russian ones brought in from other parts of the country.
In his analysis of the strategy document, Novikov says that its authors believe that the North Caucasus will remain “primarily agrarian,” something that if true will make the transfer of significant populations that the strategy anticipates even more difficult than might otherwise be the case.
What the strategy calls for to make it attractive for ethnic Russians is the development of tourism and transportation and selected industries, sectors the center through Aleksandr Khloponin, the presidential plenipotentiary, is prepared to provide massive financing at least in the short term.
And despite earlier denials, Novikov continues, the strategy calls for boosting outmigration of non-Russians from the region from 17,500 a year to as many as 40,000, a number that will create problems elsewhere because the North Caucasians will not, as the authors of the strategy believe, replace Central Asian gastarbeiters but compete with them.
That in turn, the Moscow analyst argues, will lead to more crime and more xenophobia among ethnic Russians, developments that will simultaneously limit these flows and require Moscow’s intervention to maintain order in places where the situation at present is more or less stable.
But the most interesting aspect of the strategy, Novikov continues, is that it identifies “the outflow of the ethnic Russian population from the North Caucasus” as “one of the main causes of the destabilized situation,” reversing what most analysts say is the cause and the effect, and commits Moscow to returning ethnic Russians to the region.
“For the first time in the history of post-Soviet Russia,” he writes, the powers that be have set as their task “the social-economic development of places of compact settlement of the ethnic Russian population, including the implementation of investment projects and the creation of the infrastructure of Russian culture in the North Caucasus.”
To that end, Novikov notes, the strategy calls for providing those who move there with housing and compensation for resettling. Moreover, it “includes the creation of social preferences for the ethnic Russian population (as sometimes were given to representatives of Soviet national minorities) including in the sphere of education and science.”
The strategy calls for “quotas” for ethnic Russians in republic higher educational institutions and offers ethnic Russians “the opportunities for government and municipal service especially in places of their compact settlement” in the non-Russian republics of the North Caucasus.
But perhaps most significantly, the strategy, which is based on a recognition of “the danger of mono-national formation of the quasi-state formations in the North Caucasus,” calls for “attracting the ethnic Russian element into the administrative and economic structures of the republics,” through the use of “the old Soviet method of national quotas – but now for Russians.”
(In an aside, Novikov suggests that this goal helps to explain why Stavropol kray was included in the North Caucasus Federal District. That was done, he said, “consciously” in order to create a “’neutral’” territory within the district “so that the organs [of the district] could remain primarily ethnic Russian.”)
It remains to be seen, Novikov concludes, “how far the powers that be are prepared to go for the realization of their goals in the North Caucasus.” It is, however, clear that they will face enormous resistance from non-Russians there, who view their ability in post-Soviet times to put members of their own nationality into office as a major step forward.
But Khloponin’s proposals point to a development with consequences far beyond the North Caucasus: His suggestions, which have now been approved by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, suggest that the Russian Federation is moving toward a system in which the majority nationality – the ethnic Russians – will be given preferences at the expense of non-Russians.
That may win Moscow points from some ethnic Russian nationalists, but this taking back of something the non-Russians won after the fall of the Soviet Union will likely trigger new non-Russian challenges to the center just as Mikhail Gorbachev’s turn to the right at the end of 1990, after he had promoted liberalization, had the effect of accelerating the demise of the USSR.