Thursday, February 24, 2011

Window on Eurasia: KBR Violence Worse for Moscow than Domodedovo Attack Was, Malashenko Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 24 – The wave of violence sweeping through Kabardino-Balkaria casts doubt on Moscow’s ability to ensure political stability in the North Caucasus and thus is “worse for the Russian leadership” than even the recent and much more publicized terrorist attack on Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, according to a leading Moscow analyst.

On yesterday, Aleksey Malashenko, an ethnic specialist at the Moscow Carnegie Center says that it is critical to understand that “the terrorist acts in Kabardino-Balkara are not connected with the situation in the KBR or in the North Caucasus.” Rather, he argues, “they are connected with the situation in Russia as a whole” (

The Moscow political scientists gives five reasons for his assertion that what has been taking place in that formerly stable republic in the North Caucasus both reflects and is affecting problems “for all of Russia’s internal policy and on the situation in society” not only in that region but across the country.

First of all, Malashenko says, what has been taking place in KBR “confirms that the powers [in Moscow] are in no way capable of resolving the situation in the region” and equally are incapable of preventing what has been occurring there from having an impact on the Russian Federation as a whole.

Indeed, he continues, it is highly symbolic that “while Medvedev and Putin were skiing in Sochi and talking about the prospects of the tourism cluster in the North Caucasus, their opponents have shown that they are lying and that their talk about these things are without any basis.”

Second, the attacks in KBR hit at the heart of Moscow’s proposals for “the modernization of the North Caucasus and the normalization of the situation in that region,” especially since Medvedev and Putin have made the development of tourism a major part of this effort. But who will choose to visit somewhere “if he knows that at any moment he could be blown up?”

Third, and related to the second, the attacks represent an attack on Moscow’s plans to hold the Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014. “If Russian tourists will be afraid to travel to mountain resorts,” Malashenko continues, “then what does this say about the likelihood that foreigners will come to the Olympics “knowing that at any moment they could be killed?”

From the perspective of both Russians and foreigners, the Moscow analyst continues, “the very fact that Russia could ensure political stability in [that] region has finally been put under doubt.” And for the powers that be in the Russian capital, Malashenko says, that is something “much worse” than what happened in Domodedovo.

And that is especially true, he says, because the actions of the terrorists show “a certain system and are being conducted on the basis of a definite strategy.” The attacks had symbolic targets, and they have “undermined not only the authority of the Olympic Games in Sochi and also in principle the authority of Russia.”

Fourth, given that the inability of Moscow to control the activity of the terrorists in the North Caucasus is helping to generate more Russian nationalism, then “from that point of view,” it is also obvious that “the Russian leadership is not in a position to prevent the growth of Russian nationalism,” something which is at least as dangerous for Moscow and Russia.

And fifth, both the selection of the first targets, skiers from Moscow, and the timing of the attack, when Medvedev and Putin were talking about developing tourism in the North Caucasus, represent on the part of the terrorists a thumbing of their noses at Moscow: “We can kill whom we want, when we want, and you can do nothing to us.”

For Putin and Medvedev, this is “really a tragedy” precisely because of how Russians and others around the world will view it, Malashenko says. And what is most important, the current Russian leaders “cannot offer any positive solution to this problem.” What they have offered, he continues is something that “no one believe either in Russia or abroad.”

Malashenko argues that Moscow has been making “mistakes in the North Caucasus throughout the last 20 years.” It did not need to “provoke a war in Chechnya” either the first time or the second. There was no need to talk about “drowning [the bandits] in an outhouse,” or to speak about “fighting jamaats,” as Medvedev has.

Instead, what was and is needed, the Moscow expert argues, is to recognize the “religious-political opposition” in the region and conduct “systematic” albeit difficult talks with them, something especially hard and even shameful “for our ambitious politicians, especially Putin.”
“But this was the only way out,” Malashenko concludes, noting that when Putin in fact did reach an accord with Akhmat Kadyrov in Chechnya, “the war there ended.” In sum, he suggests, “when we speak about a policy of carrots and sticks, then between them, there must be a balance. If one uses only the sticks, nothing will be achieved.”

Unfortunately, Malashenko says, it appears that Moscow has missed the chance “for a serious conversation with the opposition” in the North Caucasus. And as a result, the longtime specialist concludes, “I do not see any way out of this situation,” a reality with tragic consequences not just for the region but for Russia as a whole.

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