Moscow's Georgian Moves Undermine Ethnic Relations in Russia's Non-Russian Republics
r.amirejibi-mullen at qmul.ac.uk
Mon Sep 15 15:53:37 UTC 2008
Moscow's Georgian Moves Undermine Ethnic Relations in Russia's
WINDOW ON EURASIA
September 15, 2008
Speculation that Moscow's extension of diplomatic recognition to
Abkhazia and South Ossetia might spark a new wave of sovereignty
declarations by the non-Russian republics in the Russian Federation
has led many to overlook how Russia's actions are having an impact
short of that at least in the near term among these nations.
In an article posted on the Caucasus Times portal yesterday, an Ingush
commentator named S. Sultanov says that people in the republics of the
North Caucasus are now talking not so much about declaring their
independence as about the ways in which the Georgian events are
affecting the situation there.
He thus implies but does not say that few in the non-Russian republics
of the North Caucasus believe that the West or Georgia will really
push to recognize them as independent countries, but many there think
that Tbilisi and its Western partners could raise issues that would
allow the non-Russians to achieve other goals.
In Chechnya and Ingushetia, Sultanov writes, Tbilisi and the West
would win many friends if they were to use this occasion to raise the
question about the recognition of the Soviet deportation of the
Chechens and Ingush in 1944 as a genocide, something for which he says
"there are precedents."
Moreover, he continues, many in the North Caucasus will be in a
position to secure greater control over rural regions of their
republics, with Moscow left in control of the cities and unable to
deploy the kind of force that would guarantee Russia control of the
region, especially as ethnic tensions are certain to rise.
That trend, of course, does not necessarily equal or even point toward
demands for eventual independence, but it does suggest that relations
between ethnic groups in these areas and between the central Russian
government and the leaders and peoples of these regions are undergoing
a profound change in the wake of Georgia.
As a result of its military moves in Georgia, Sultanov says, "Russia
has left the Russian language population in the North Caucasus" in an
increasingly uncomfortable position. Ever more of them will either
seek to leave or demand that Moscow adopt a more repressive approach
to the indigenous populations.
But the application of such repression will have the unintended
consequence of leading even more of the local people to demand that
the "outsiders" who increasingly will be viewed as "a fifth column" go
home, further reducing Moscow's ability to manage or even control
large swaths of territory even if no one declares for independence or
Throughout the history of its presence in the North Caucasus, Sultanov
argues, "Russia has based itself not on peoples and on their
spiritual, moral and cultural potential but on 'elites' assigned by
itself." Increasingly, the isolation of these elites from the
population has become greater, and the events in Georgia will only
increase this divide further.
As recognition of that reality spreads and intensifies among the
peoples of the North Caucasus ? and Sultanov indicates that in his
republic Ingushetia, such an understanding is already widespread --
there is no reason to think that Moscow will have a "peaceful future"
if its forces, military and political, remain in the region.
Finally, the Ingush commentator points out that many in the West are
deceiving themselves about what Russia is and consequently about what
role any sanctions against Moscow will play. Whatever some in the West
think, Russia "has never been genuinely democratic."
Instead, Russia even now is a mix of "feudalism and serfdom," a
combination that the current masters of the Kremlin like to call
"sovereign democracy." And consequently, the impact of what the West
does or does not do on the Russian government is very different than
it would be if Russia were a democratic country.
Many in the West and especially in Europe are now saying, Sultanov
continues, that imposing sanctions on Russia will accomplish nothing
or even make things worse. But in fact, he argues, a failure to impose
sanctions will have that result, because the Kremlin will conclude
that the West can be pushed around.
And that in turn will set the stage for a more aggressive Russian
policy both abroad and at home, threatening the international order
directly in the first case and indirectly in the second by increasing
repression against the nations in the Russian Federation and setting
the stage for more explosions there.
Sultanov's argument, of course, does not mean that some of the
non-Russian republics may not try for independence sometime soon.
Today's news featured a report that the Altai government has refused
to comment on the possibility that it might go independent, a position
some will see as leaving open that possibility.
The decision of Altai officials not to comment, of course, probably
reflects less that than a desire not to attract the kind of attention
that came to senior official in the Komi last week when he pointedly
rejected any possibility that his republic might ever seek to become
an independent country.
But as so often happens in Russia, a new anecdote may provide more
insight into what people there are thinking than any other sources: In
the wake of Moscow's moves in Georgia, www.anekdot.ru reports,
Russians and non-Russians are noting that "the Russian Federation is
the only country in the world which defends its citizens only on
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