Sunday, February 27, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Russia Isn’t Libya, But It Isn’t Stable Either, Moscow Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, February 27 – Fortunately, Russia is a long way from Libya at least so far, a Moscow analyst says, but no one, even the most committed believer in "'sovereign democracy’” would call it “’a quiet harbor’” anymore after the violence at Domodedovo and in the North Caucasus over the last month.

On the “Osobaya bukhva” portal yesterday, Roman Popkov argues that the powers that be in Moscow have only themselves to blame because “the corrupt feudal system” in the North Caucasus they have “blessed” has become “a laboratory and producer of terror and extremism”

As neither the leaders in the North Caucasus nor their backers in Moscow understand, “the real recruiting points of the militants are located not in Umarrov’s forest redoubts but in the Daghestani district offices of the militia and in the underground private prisons in Tsentoroye, where a cruel medieval arbitrariness rules, where there is no hope for justice for ‘the little man,’ and where young people have no future.”

Consequently, Popkov continues, “one can kill Umarov with a rocket” or shoot all of those in his band and yet face a more serious opposition afterwards. Indeed, as the attacks in Kabardino-Balkaria this past week show, that is what has been happening lately, something that should give both Moscow and its representatives in the region pause.

“Thank God,” the “Osobaya bukhva” commentator says, “Russia is still a long distance from the state Libya is in.” But there is no one left who would say that Russia is in any respect “a quiet harbor.” The attacks, from Domodedovo to the Elbrus mountains to Nalchik, have come too quick and fast for that.

President Dmitry Medvedev has responded by assembling a meeting of the siloviki and heads of the republics of the North Caucasus and calling for “preventive strikes” against “the bandit underground.” But “hardly anyone, including the president himself, believes that this will really help a great deal.”

No one disputes that Russia must employ “pitiless Israeli-style methods” against the terrorists. But at the same time, no one can seriously believe that “military-police measures will stabilize the situation.” There needs to be “an effective social-political doctrine in the Caucasus,” and that is something Moscow does not have.

“The federal powers that be in the Caucasus have become hostages to their own defective policy,” one that Fedor Krasheninnikov, a political scientist, has described as “Moscow-Caucasia,” which he suggests bears a strong resemblance to the policies of the Habsburgs in the Austro-Hungary of the 19th century.

When the Habsburgs were confronted by a powerful Hungarian nationalist movement, they decided to try to rope in the Hungarian elites by making “significant concessions” to them in an effort to prevent the empire from unraveling. As a result, in 1867, the Austrian Empire became the Austrian-Hungarian one.

Moscow has been trying “something similar” in the Caucasus for a decade. Having “with difficulty” suppressed Ichkerian separatism, Moscow officials handed over enormous powers to local North Caucasian elites who have been allowed to act pretty much as they want as long as “there are no more Dudayevs.”

As a result of this, “there exist de facto two legal zones, two political and social systems.” There is Russia proper, “with a harsh power vertical, an all-powerful Kremlin … and everything under control. “And there is ‘the Caucasus,’ a region which is united with Russia only on the basis of a personal union of the Caucasus elites with Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.”

“The main problem,” Popkov writes, is not only “the mandate for barbarism” this arrangement gives the feudal leaders. Rather it is that “the feudal to whom the Kremlin has delegated power all the time will offer [Russians] terrorists. The Kremlin expects stability from these guys, but these guys are a source of terror.”

“In the unending war with terrorism,” he continues, “the Caucasus elite is a poor assistant, cowardly and ineffective.” Moscow must recognize “the ineffectiveness of the personal union and other feudal instruments in the 21st century” or “the road to the balkanization of the North Caucasus will be open.”

The Caucasus clearly “is a complicated problem which will require a complicated solution. But it is already clear how one must begin: with a decisive reconstruction of the North Caucasus political system,” with the disbanding of “the personal union” between Moscow and “the little tsars” of this region.

It is possible, Popkov says, that intelligent officers like Yunus-bek Yevkurov could be the model for “the new Caucasus elite” Moscow needs. But however that may be, it should be clear to all that “one must not try to conduct a war against monsters and obscurantists with the assistance of monsters and obscurantists.”

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