Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Russian Actions in Georgia Destabilizing the North Caucasus

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 12 – Moscow’s military actions in Georgia to the surprise of no one following events in the region are destabilizing the situation in all the republics of the North Caucasus, exacerbating longstanding problems in some and creating new threats to stability and Russian control in others, according to an increasing chorus of Russian commentators.
In today’s “Vremya,” Ivan Sukhov is blunt about just how counterproductive Russian actions in Georgia may be in the North Caucasus, asserting that “the crisis” in Georgia now “threatens the stability” of the entire region in ways that Moscow will find very difficult to counter (vremya.ru/2008/145/4/210203.html).
Pointing out that many of the borders in this region were designed by Stalin to create tensions rather than resolve them, Sukhov argues that the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 destroyed the structure that held them in place and left “several ethno-territorial mines, some of which blew up already in the late 1990s.”
It is critically important to recognize this reality, Sukhov says, because Moscow has generally ignored the fact that in this region borders are both barriers and bridges, barriers in the sense that they lock communities together or apart and bridges in that they permit problems in one republic under certain conditions to spread quickly to another.
Moscow has tried to control each of the republics in turn, and in recent years, it has claimed to have succeeded. But a close look at the situation, particularly in the wake of Russian military action in Georgia shows that Moscow’s “successes” have been “illusory” and can disappear overnight.
The Russian government’s control over Chechnya, for example, “for a long time was measured by the control of Vladimir Putin over Ramzan Kadyrov. But “the defect” of this approach was highlighted in May when “the popularity of Kadyrov ceased to grow because his co-ethnics felt his own lack of confidence” about who “the lord protector of Chechnya” now is.
Wealthy and well-placed Chechens began to cut their own deals with new groups in the Russian capital, Sukhov continues, and “young people again began to go into the mountains and Russian army columns again began to be shot at” by these new recruits in their mountain fastnesses.
“Similar movement within regional elites,” Sukhov continues, can be observed “in other Russian regions,” but in the Caucasus they are exacerbated by the “obvious” links between the Moscow-supported elites and the anti-Moscow underground: “In a paradoxical way, local officials are both the main enemy and the main source of financing” of the latter.
South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoita, although close to the Russian siloviki, “just like certain of his colleagues over the mountains could not but be concerned by the possible change of his lobby ties in Moscow” following the changeover in the Kremlin, something that may have been behind his stirring of the pot in order to save his own skin.
And both because of what the events in Georgia say about Russia and because of the refugee flows that Russian military action there have provoked, many places in the North , particularly North Ossetia, Ingushetia and Daghestan will be destabilized both ideologically and practically.
Finally, Sukhov notes, “the reports about the formation of volunteer units in Daghestan and Makhachkala testify about two things (among which is no f fraternal feeling to the people of Ossetia. First, local politicians are remaining the Kremlin about themselves and second, the North Caucasus remains a place where significant groups of armed people can assemble and move about – without any clarity as to whom they are subordinate.”
“It is difficult to imagine that someone in Russia or beyond its borders can be cheered by this reality.”
Two other articles today not only provide evidentiary support for all of Sukhov’s contentions but also offer additional reasons for thinking that the events in Georgia represent a lighted match that is going to land in the increasingly combustible social and political situations in the republics of the North Caucasus.
In the one, Abdulla Istamulov, the head of the SK-Strategy Analytic Center, argues that the driving force of the opposition to Russian control no longer consists of traditional ethnic groups but rather ideologically defined bands, making it easier for developments in one republic to jump to another (www.expert.ru/printissues/expert/2008/31/interview_banda_silnee_roda/).
And in the other, Igor Boykov points out that Russian officials have now acknowledged that they and the government they thought they controlled in Makhachkala is “losing the ideological war to the underground bands of Wahhabis” in Daghestan, thus threatening Russian control there as well (www.nazlobu.ru/publications/article2906.htm).

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