Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Who’s Behind Stavropol Effort to Exit North Caucasus Federal District?

Paul Goble

Staunton, October 26 – Most Russian commentators have taken the declarations of Stavropol residents that they want to have their kray shifted from the North Caucasus Federal District to the Southern Federal District to avoid being lumped together with non-Russian groups there at face value.
But one Russian analyst, Andrey Samokhin, argues that there may be far more at work and suggests that three different groups, including Russian nationalists, kray officials and even officials in Moscow itself may be behind this effort which is attracting ever more attention in the Russian media (andrei-samokhin.livejournal.com/9768.html).
Samokhin points out that the number of people who have signed the Internet petition calling on Moscow to shift Stavropol from the North Caucasus to the Southern Federal District is now approaching 6,000 and concedes that the reasons the petition lists for the change, all linked to the problems of the North Caucasus, are at least plausible.
However, he argues that there is no indication as to how a shift of the kray from one federal district to another will do anything to address what the appeal says is the worsening “criminogenic situation, the level of crime, and the number of conflicts between local and migrant youths.”
“Just what guarantees of defense would Stavropol receive if it were transferred to the Southern Federal District?” Samokhin asks rhetorically. Would someone put up a wall between it and its neighbors to prevent the North Caucasians from coming in? Of course not, he says, given the Constitutional right of Russian Federation residents to move from one place to another.
And because that is so, one needs to enquire as to the real reasons or more precisely the particular forces that stand behind this effort, all the more so since many of the signatories come from far beyond the borders of Stavropol kray. According to Samokhin, there are three groups that may be involved.
The first group that may be behind this effort, the Russian analyst says, includes Russian nationalists. Such a conclusion, he suggests, arises from the call in the appeal to “conduct a number of measures directed at the reduction of migration pressure on the region and to create conditions under which the outmigration of the local population will be reduced.”
That is part of the Russian nationalist agenda not just for Stavropol but for the country as a whole, and the appeal is cleverly cast in language designed to appeal to the largest possible number of supporters of that idea, something that would not have been the case had its authors been more pointed in their remarks about North Caucasians as such.
Samokhin says that in his view, this is the most likely force, all the more so given that members of the “V kontakte” group and other Russian nationalist groups far from Stavropol have issued similar demands in the recent past, including specific calls for doing away with the North Caucasus Federal District.
The second group that may be involved, Samokhin says, involves the powers that be in Stavropol kray itself. They know that the image of the North Caucasus is such that as long as they are linked with it, the possibilities that any outside firm will invest in their kray are very, very limited.
Consequently, they have a vested interest in getting their region transferred so that investors will view it not as part of the turbulent North Caucasus but rather part of the more peaceful, even already prosperous Russian South, an image that the powers that be there are certainly interested in cultivating.
And finally, Samokhin argues, there is a third group that may be involved: the federal powers that be themselves. That might seem counter-intuitive given that Moscow created the North Caucasus Federal District, but there are good reasons to think that many in the Russian capital may now favor transferring Stavropol kray out of it.
Many in Moscow, he says, are tired of trying to pacify and develop the North Caucasus and are interested in “the isolation of that region” rather than in addressing its problems. Russia hasn’t been able to deal with extremism, officials feel, and perhaps, some think, “it is already time to give the Caucasus the official status of ‘a black hole’” about which nothing can be done.
Consequently, Samokhin suggests, some of them may want to move toward separating the North Caucasus out from the rest of the country more definitively. Many viewed the formation of the North Caucasus Federal District earlier this year as a step in that direction, and the current Internet campaign about Stavropol is another testing of public attitudes.
In that event, the appeal and its supporters are showing that Russian society “supports on the whole” isolating and separating out from the rest of the country the North Caucasus. What then remains, the Moscow analyst says, is to “await the realization of the next stage” of this political project.

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