Russia without the Caucasus

North CaucasusThe North Caucasus is the most problematic region of modern Russia, a tight cluster of political and economic contradictions. What the censored medium of Russian television shows, of course, is the “restoration of Chechnya”, the “building of a peaceful life” and the last of the insurgents clumsily scrambling out of the bushes in order to receive amnesty from President Kadyrov. Reason, however, refuses to place any credence in this grand scenario – it doesn’t look much like “law and order” when power in the republic is passed on by inheritance, and ex-terrorists form GRU military intelligence battalions armed to the teeth.

On the other hand, those who have access to sources of information other than TV may see a more truthful picture. The Caucasian feudal lords are constantly squabbling among themselves, and they have no qualms about resolving their differences by gunfights in the centre of Moscow. The Caucasian opposition politician ends his life thrown out of a police car with a bullet in his head, and Caucasian government ministers are killed at the hands of the spetsnaz. Not to mention all the abductions and murders that regularly take place in that part of the world.

It is also hard to avoid the realization that the Caucasus has already moved to us here in Central Russia, at least halfway. It has moved substantially, bringing with it all the features of its Caucasian identity such as the mandatory firing of pistols in the middle of the road (the so-called “Vainakh motor cavalcade”).

So it may be time to wonder: what would be a real and effective resolution of the “Caucasus question”? Depending on whose interests are to be met, of course. Our approach to the matter is based on the primacy of the interests of the Russian nation. For this one needs to use some imagination and suppose that the Russian government acts not in the interests of the state corporations and a small number of well-known persons, but in the interests of the Russian nation itself, whose existence is still not written into the current constitution.

And viewed from such an angle, the solution is quite simple – the separation of the North Caucasus from Russia. The idea is not a new one. It traditionally causes hysterical protests at a certain end of the political spectrum. But time is passing, the inertia of thought is cracking under the pressure reasonable arguments. And this view is heard with increasing frequency in nationalist circles – especially among Russian national democrats, of whom I am one.

The root of the current problems must be sought in the past. A cursory examination of the history of Russian-Caucasian relations is sufficient to dispose of any illusions about what that relationship may become in the future. Is it possible for Russians and Caucasians to peacefully coexist in a single state? Alas, the history of Russian-Caucasian relations is one of constant wars, bloody rebellions, punitive expeditions and unceasing partisan strife.

It is quite possible that many modern Russian city dwellers do not care about that history – they were “pulled up by the roots” long ago. Though it could be argued that anyone who knows what happened to Chechnya’s Russian population in the 1990s is unlikely to be indifferent to the topic of Russian-Caucasian relations.

But what about the “other side”? For the inhabitants of the North Caucasus the arrival of Russia was the most significant event in their history. It is considered that every self-respecting Vainakh needs to know several generations of his ancestors. Thus, every self-respecting Vainakh knows that his grandfather was deported, his great-grandfather fought the Russians, and his great-great-grandmother was burned alive together with the rest of the village. And there is not much one can do about it – after all, one can’t forbid people to have a knowledge of their own history! And it is not so long ago that those who now teach that history were delivering ammunition to heir fathers and older brothers who were fighting the Russian troops.

So why does Russia keep these territories, which are a perpetual source of tension and crime? Why does Russia direct its resources there, resources that have been literally confiscated from the Russian regions?

For that there is no rational explanation. The main premise of Russian propaganda is founded on intimidation. If Russia withdraws from the Caucasus, the argument goes, there will be a Caliphate which will seize NATO’s bases, start to launch attacks on Russia’s borders, and then move into Russia altogether to take up permanent residence there.

What all these “scarecrows” have in common is not only that they are terribly far from reality, but also that they do not take into account the possibility of economic, diplomatic and military influence on the adjacent territories. And those possibilities are very extensive – covering everything from air strikes to economic sanctions.

The real reasons for the retention of the Caucasus within Russia are, of course, different. And they come directly from the current “petroleum-fixated” Russian economy. Although Chechen oil is a mere drop in the ocean of Russia’s overall oil reserves, it is still worth some money.

Does it really need pointing out that dubious “geopolitical interests” of this kind are important to Russia only in its present abnormal “commodity” phase? And that they will no longer be important if Russia is able to climb down from the notorious “oil spike”?

It should be noted that the idea of separating the North Caucasus from Russia enjoys much popularity among a fair proportion of Russians. Those political organizations which are afraid to suggest this option for fear of its unpopularity are definitely mistaken. According to the Levada Centre, in 2005 69% of Russia’s population expressed their support for the separation of Chechnya. A FOM poll of the same group found that 52% had no confidence in the normalization of the situation in the republic. People are moved far more by the consideration of their own well-being and security than by the myths and tedious propaganda material they are fed from their television screens. And the more clearly we are aware of our of our own Russian interests, separating them from the interests of the business mafias, the officials and the state corporations, the closer we shall be to freeing ourselves of the Caucasus burden.

By Mikhail Pozharsky, special to Prague Watchdog

Translated by David McDuff

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