Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russia Threatened by Hidden Disintegration in North Caucasus and Middle Volga, Remizov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 15 – Because of the disintegration of the USSR and the two post-Soviet Chechen wars, Russians are especially sensitive to anything resembling separatism, but they have paid less aattention to “another dimension of the collapse of statehood” – the loss of the basic prerogatives of state power over portions of the country, according to a new study.
            But the loss of these prerogatives, including “the supremacy of its jurisdiction everywhere in the country, support for basic standards in the shere of law and security a certain level of loyalty and solidarity, [and] a monopoly on legitimate force,” exist in Russia today, are “no less dangerous than territorial” challenges and can “in the final analysis grow into [them].”

            That is the conclusion of a 54-page report on “The Map of Ethno-Religioius Threats: The North Caucasus and the Volga Region” prepared by the Moscow Institute for National Strategy (, and discussed by the institute’s leader, Mikhail Remizov, in “Nezavisimaya gazeta” (

             Among the most important indications of this hidden disintegration are “the de facto falling out of the legal space of Russia of a number of regions,” such as Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Daghestan and especially “the de facto formation of systems of organized force not under the control of the Federal Center.”

A second is the rise of ethnocracies “in practically all and even the most well-off republics of the Russian Federation and a tendency toward legal particularism” in places like Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Sakha and Tuva. Because in most cases, “behind the national question stands the property question,” that trend is especially serious.

                A third indication is the rapid spread of radical political Islamism, which now offers an alternative arrangement to society territorially, ethnically and socially and which has penetrated not only organized criminal groups but even parts of the state administration. A major contributing factor to this development is massive immigration from Central Asia.

                And a fourth is the rise of ethnic stereotypes on both sides which promote the further radicalization of the population, especially among the young.  Unfortunately, Remizov says, “the authorities continue to struggle with the symptoms of this tension and not with its systemic causes.”

                A major reason for this is that “the arsenal of the federal authorities to counter such threats is extremely limited.” For example, they have bet on “traditional Islam,” something that has proved a weak reed in and of itself and a strategy that its opponents view as a sign of weakness and yet another chance for them to spread their influence.

            But even more important in this regard is the failure of Russians to recognize that Russia faces a threat from pan-Islamism because of “a crisis of the Russian state itself.”  If the state were fulfilling its functions, the threat from political Islamism would be significantly less than it now is.

But instead of addressing those shortcomings, Remizov says, the government is making the situation worse by its clumsy efforts to combat extremism by force alone or by throwing money at the problem, something its opponents are all too ready and able to divert to support their own plans and add to the existing level of instability.

                Unfortunately, he writes, this year is an especially bad time because “the period of the preparation and conduct of the Olympic Games in Sochi is a time of heightened ethnopolitcal risk and forced concessions by the Federal Center which not only prevents the taking of decisions but even the consideration of serious problems.”

To counter this development, Remizov makes a number of specific proposals: better coordination among government agencies, greater support for local civil society, heightened respect for traditional political groups like the Cossacks, appointment of stronger officials to oversee the region, and shifting Stavropol kray out of the North Caucasus FD.

            But “the main thing” Moscow has to do is to understand and act upon the basic physics of political “gravity.”  Russia has an ethnic core: it consists of ethnic Russians, and they have no one to support them besides the Federal government.  Moscow must thus act on their behalf to hold the country together.

            In the North Caucasus, that means “strengthening the perimeter of rhe frontline ethnic Russian regions” because only if things go well will “a ‘recolonization’ of the Caucasus in the course of modernization of its economy” be possible. And in the Middle Volga, Moscow must ensure that Russians stop leaving but stay where they are to hold that region for Russia.

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