Staunton, November 29 – The violent clash between Chechens and Cossacks in Zelenokumsk in Stavropol over the weekend, a fight set off by an attempted rape and one that involved wounds from an exchange of gunfire, has further exacerbated tensions between ethnic Russians and “persons of Caucasus nationality” across the Russian Federation.
On the one hand, it has led many to conclude that “a second Kondopoga” – a reference to the clashes in Karelia four years ago – is possible in any region of Russia where there are Caucasus migrant workers and their families (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/177700/ and ruskline.ru/news_rl/2010/11/29/komu_zahochetsya_imet_u_sebya_v_regione_vtoruyu_kondopogu/).
And on the other, and far more seriously, it has led an increasing number of anti-immigrant Russian nationalist groups like the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) to declare that officials can no longer be trusted to control the situation and that Russians must take things into their own hands (www.dpni.org/articles/lenta_novo/18442/).
Among the groups in the Russian community most prepared to do so – and often with the blessing or at least without the opposition of Russian Federation officialdom – are the Cossacks. And while many Cossack leaders appear committed to working closely with the authorities – they see this as their duty – some Cossack activists are ready to freelance.
Postings on the blog of one Cossack in Stavropol suggest that the latter may be becoming increasingly influential. He said that the official media “lie without shame” and that the Cossacks and other “nationally conscious” Russians must act on their own to protect themselves, their property and their families (voysko.blog.ru/).
Such feelings are only going to be exacerbated by the efforts of the powers that be there to label the conflict an ordinary crime, all the more so since these officials have reportedly called in militia units from neighboring districts and, according to some reports, even put soldiers in the MVD internal troops on alert.
As various bloggers have said, “everyone in Stavropol” fully understands that this conflict had “an inter-ethnic subtext,” whatever the powers that be say. And unless the authorities acknowledge that reality, anything they say is likely to feed into the growing sense that ethnic Russians must mobilize to defend themselves.
Given that many Chechens and others from the Caucasus are armed and that an increasing number of Russian nationalist groups have access to weapons as well, this collapse in trust in the ability and willingness of the authorities to guarantee law and order almost certainly will lead to more clashes and less law and order elsewhere.
What remains to be seen is what the center will do next. Its options are limited: It could increase repression to the point that no one in the population will engage in violence. It could try to separate the ethnic communities. Or it could seek to address the underlying social and political problems of the two groups.
If Moscow chooses either of the first two options, there will be more violence in more Russian regions at least in the short term and possibly longer. But if it is to try the third, then Moscow will have to change its approach not only on nationality policy but on the handling of domestic affairs more generally.
Prospects for that do not seem bright, and consequently, an increasing number of North Caucasians living outside their home areas and Russian nationalists angry at changes in the demographic face of their regions are likely to enter a new arms race, one that likely means each succeeding Kondopoga will be more violent and more deadly than the last.