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The North Caucasus: The Bomb Under the Russian Federation

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Imagine an Algeria that is part of France, totally subsidized by the French budget, and at the same time, ruled by a local sultan whose praetorians are hostile to the French troops. Absurdity! Yet, this situation exists in Russia. I am talking about the North Caucasus; a region that hosts a number of sultanistic regimes that are openly defiant toward Moscow.

The existence of the North Caucasus “sultanates” exemplifies the difficulties of modern Russia. The country is a half-frozen, half-disintegrated empire which includes vastly different civilizational segments. One of the areas that is growing increasingly alien to Russia is the North Caucasus.

Russia is desperately racking its brains as to how to continue to survive. The logic says: Russia has to move toward the nation state model. That, however, would necessitate further disintegration and territorial contractions which Russians are not ready to think about. While the shrinking of an empire may be painful to contemplate, one may question whether this half-frozen state is durable.

And here we are: the Kremlin pays the price to pacify and accommodate the North Caucasus which is evidence of the Russian state’s fragility. The Kremlin’s willingness to let local sultans establish their despotic rules is a sign that the process of the state atrophy is underway. Kadyrov’s ruthless rule in Chechnya is an invitation for other republics to follow suit. The Chechen rule, in fact, amounts to a form of Kremlin-sanctioned anti-constitutional coup. It is hard to believe that the Russian Federation, with such anti-constitutional implants, can survive for long. Its disintegration is inevitable.

But before its starts in earnest, we may see dramatic developments, the nature of which one would not even like to think about now. Kadyrov’s praetorians taking part in the struggle for power in Moscow… Or the North Caucasus fighters spreading jihad elsewhere… and not only to Syria…

Yes, you are right. The North Caucasus is becoming not only a Russian problem.


Comments (2)

  • Julie Leighton
    What to do with a problem like the Northern Caucasus? I agree that the current state of relations between that region and Moscow can not continue. Its perpetuation is causing considerable domestic, and, after the Boston Marathon incident, international strife. I also second the idea of moving towards a Russian nation-state; but I neither think that this transition necessitates territorial shrinkage, nor that redrawing the country’s boundaries will satisfactorily curb Northern Caucasian aggression. As to the region’s sultanate phenomenon, I do not interpret this as a Kremlin atrophy, but as desperation.

    I think that a modern Russian nation-state will not be determined by geography, but by mentality. There is desperate need for the construction of a new age, post post-Soviet, national ethos. The frozen, half-disintegration, that Shevtsova describes will not be counteracted by omitting a region, but it can be fought by changing the national mood.

    Relations between Russia and the Northern Caucasus need to be reset. For reasons of security, these entities should not be separated. I think that both the domestic and international communities fear that this region’s independence could lead to the establishment of a jihad loci; which would only intensify the danger it posed to all parties. It seems to me that the Kremlin has sanctioned despotic rule here, not to encourage an anti-constitutional coup, but in a frantic grasp at control.

    There needs to be a new approach; one that allows the region a degree of local independence, but also confines it within Russia. It’s tempting to suggest a modern Ottoman-style vilayet system. This would relegate the Caucasus as a Russian administrative district, that was otherwise autonomous. Ideally implemented, this could go a long way to solving the problem.
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  • JR Lalancette
    I too think that a new "mentality" has to gain prominence in Russia in order to solidify the state. If the state espoused a more 'inclusionary' stance (ie include people of all its regions in its state identity) on its political community, then Moscow could challenge the rule of local Sultanates/Warlords/Politicians. The latter only exists because of the lack of Moscow's attention and resource distribution in these regions. With lack of two important elements in Russian regional societies - resource distribution and a way to secure law and order to protect people of these regions - then these people do not have a stake in the Russian state and will continue to seek another to provide them with these basic social needs. Now, as a response to Lilia's piece, I would say that Moscow is probably not willing to let these 'Sultanates' grow at all, unless they are firmly under the Kremlin's grip. If this is the case, then it serves as evidence that Moscow seeks a quick-fix solution to keep regions under Russian control by proxy which risks the resentment of the local population for being ruled by puppets. Again, a change of attitude to an all-inclusive national identity by the Russian state is its best option since it will give all its peoples a stake in their own governance.
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