Russia Needs to Defuse the Situation in the Caucasus
Aleksey Malashenko | Carnegie Center Moscow | September 2009
Reactions by Moscow and Tbilisi to the EU report on the Russian-Georgian War demonstrate how tense the situation in the Caucasus remains. The report blamed the war on the Georgians, who opened hostilities against the South Ossetians. However, it also criticized Russia for using inappropriate force in response to Georgian provocations. What the report failed to mention was that the repercussions of the conflict continue to be felt locally too, notably, in the Russian part of the Caucasus Mountains. In Russia, voices are increasingly heard that urge Moscow to pay greater attention to conflicts along its internal borders, such as the one between Ingushetia and North Ossetia. After all, Moscow risked international entanglements in order to assist the South Ossetians across the border in their claims against the Georgians. Moreover, skirmishes along Russia's internal borders in the Caucasus severely increase security risks in a region where experts euphemistically describe the situation as one of "instable stability."
It appears as though Moscow failed to realize this danger, partly no doubt because of the comparative quiet that has reigned in Chechnya during recent months. Moscow's disinterest notwithstanding, this past summer witnessed a significant increase in violence, in particular in the eastern part of the Russian Caucasus characterized by the presence of large Muslim populations (Ingushetia, Dagestan, and Kabardino-Balkaria). Terrorist attacks are recorded here on a daily basis. The situation in Dagestan today is even worse than in Chechnya. Contrary to established wisdom in Russia, it was not the much heralded "anti-terror campaign" of the Russian government that brought greater calm to the Chechen Republic. Rather the divisions of the rebels amongst themselves and their apt manipulation by the two Kadyrovs pulled the ground out from under the separatist movement. Experts at present do not expect separatism to re-emerge as a serious threat in the region. Nevertheless, the situation remains tense. Ethnic and religious conflicts, high unemployment, and huge gaps between rich and poor preclude a peaceful settlement of the conflicts in the area.
Furthermore, controversial proposals such as the re-establishment of a mixed-ethnic Chechen-Ingush republic, along the lines of the autonomous republic in Soviet times, tend to increase the potential for conflict. The creation of such a "super republic" would seriously upset the balance of power in the region. The border conflict between Ingushetia and North Ossetia could escalate rapidly stoking nationalist sentiments which could tempt North and South Ossetia into unifying as a republic. . That would not be received well with the Georgians, and the conflict could spill over into the international arena. Nevertheless, Moscow and most Chechens seem to be in favor of the proposal of setting up a mixed-ethnic republic. The Ingush Republic on the other hand fears being swallowed up by its assertive neighbor.
The President of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov is also less than thrilled, since he has to worry about remaining in power. For Moscow, the younger Kadyrov has for a long time been a liability, because of his involvement in high-profile murders of journalists and human rights activists. Experts now fear that increasing differences between Moscow and Kadyrov could contribute to an escalation of tensions in the Caucasus in the near future. In order to further the cause of peace in the region, Moscow would do well to promote the settlement of internal border disputes and to follow the example set by Ingush President Yevkurov. In spite of grave difficulties, he has succeeded in reducing societal tensions in his republic. After all, the situation in the Russian part of the Caucasus can only be improved in the long run by addressing the economic and social grievances of the local peoples.
This summary was prepared by the Atlantic Community editorial team from "We are losing the Caucasus" published here by Carnegie Center Moscow.