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Russia: RFE/RL Speaks With Ethnographer Emil Pain

Emil Pain, director of the Russian Center for Ethnopolitical Studies in Moscow, was in Washington on 12 October to participate in a conference on stability in the Caucasus. Much of the discussion foreshadowed the 13 October attacks on multiple targets in Nalchik, capital of the North Caucasus Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria. Speaker after speaker predicted another event like the 2004 Beslan school tragedy or the 1995 Budennovsk hospital seizure in the near future.

In his remarks to the conference, Pain recalled how Kabardino-Balkaria just three or four years ago was "one of the safest places in the Russian Federation." "I like this republic," he said, "and I often came to Nalchik -- it was a really safe place, and now the news from the republic resembles war reporting. Special military operations are carried out in its capital, Nalchik on a regular basis and in the course of such an operations tanks are deployed and elite troops to disarm so-called Wahhabis [in] multi-story apartment buildings." Pain spoke with RFE/RL correspondent Julie Corwin about the situation in Chechnya and Russian federal policy.

RFE/RL: From your experience as an adviser to former President Boris Yeltsin on Chechnya, how well informed do you think President Vladimir Putin is about what is really going on in Chechnya?

Pain: I wasn't an adviser specifically on Chechnya but on a broader set of issues. I suppose that the present president is less well informed than the previous one. Why? Because the free press is closed. I know from my personal experience that it was necessary to correct a lot of materials that I received from the secret services. And when I received information from newspapers, I would ask journalists, foreign journalists [about it]. I would sometimes make a big correction in this information war against Chechnya and against [the] Russian audience. This information war has such results that government does not have adequate information.

RFE/RL: Why does Putin seem to have so much faith in [Chechen administration First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan] Kadyrov?

Pain: Putin trusts him personally. Putin was impressed by the fact that the same person who declared a jihad against the Russian government now wants to serve the Russian government. It made a big impression on him. Of course, it was necessary to calculate a lot of personal factors that brought Kadyrov to this decision. Putin has no other choice, by the way. There are not a lot of other people who could be the Kremlin's henchman in Chechnya.

RFE/RL: You were one of first experts in 2002 -- and this was even before the Moscow theater hostage crisis -- to make the point that Russian military reprisals were counterproductive and simply impel ever more young Chechen men to join the resistance? Do you see a similar situation in Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria?

Pain: This was my fundamental position during the first Chechen war [in 1994-96] and I haven't changed it. I see growing numbers of illegal, informal radical organizations in all the republics of the North Caucasus, and it is a result of this [policy]. It is not only the result of the suppression, but the result of different types of government decisions. It's a response of the [almost total] alienation of the people from the government.

RFE/RL: Do you still think that it is possible to negotiate and put an end to the fighting in Chechnya? Is there someone who could persuade Putin do this?

Pain: No. I'm against those people who describe the Chechen situation as very simple and all you have to do is to begin negotiations, and the problem will be solved. It couldn't be solved now. Now it's a big problem -- with whom is it possible to begin negotiations?

RFE/RL: [Chechen resistance leader Abdul-Khalim] Sadullaev is too unpredictable?

Pain: No, but he is not influential enough. And what is most important -- the majority of the people in Chechnya hate the terrorists maybe more than the Russian soldiers.

RFE/RL: You said in your presentation that you think Chechnya sets the style for the rest of Kremlin policy toward the regions -- i.e., suppression rather than persuasion. Do you predict that other Russian regions outside of the North Caucasus area will become more radicalized?

Pain: We can see even some radicalization in Tatarstan. It's an indicator that in [the U.S. detention center at] Guantanamo [Bay, Cuba,] there are no Chechens, but there was a Tatar and there were Bashkirs. That's an indicator.

RFE/RL: Have you seen the new draft concept paper about nationality policy? "Kommersant-Daily" published an article about it and quoted it, saying that one of the primary functions of Russian policy is the "formation of the Russian people [rossiiskii narod] into a single nationality [natsiya]"?

Pain: On the one hand, I strongly support this idea. I don’t know any alternative to the creation of a Russian civil-political nation. But it is a declaration now. And I understand that the real policy is quite against this idea. So it is not enough to produce a slogan, but it is necessary to do something. The basis of a civil nation is common goals, common values, trust in the government, and the understanding that the government serves us. The main task of the people [now] is to avoid military service, taxes, and the authorities in general. Under such conditions, it is impossible to form a civil political nation.

Nalchik In Pictures

A slideshow look at the October 13-14 violence in Nalchik, capital of the Russian North Caucasus Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria.