Things are not going too well in Russia's North Caucasus region. Things are so worrisome, in fact, that in his most recent state-of-the-nation address Russian President Dmitry Medvedev declared the North Caucasus "the most serious domestic political problem."
There is a lot to be concerned about. The conflict in Chechnya, despite the formal ending of the counterterrorist operation in April 2009 and contrary to the assurances of some of Russia's top officials, is far from over. Just at the end of August, a 10-man suicide squad wreaked havoc in Tsentoroi, Chechnya's equivalent of the Green Zone, shooting police on sight and setting their houses and cars on fire. The ultimate target was, of course, the republic's pro-Moscow strongman, Ramzan Kadyrov, but he escaped the attack unscathed.
More worryingly for the Kremlin, however, the conflict in Chechnya has spread to neighboring territories, and the incidence of violence in Daghestan, Ingushetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria is on the rise.
Across the North Caucasus, 2009 saw a sharp spike in attacks on police, security forces, and government officials. According to official Russian sources, which are known for their tendency to understate the problem, the number of terrorist attacks increased by 30 percent in 2009, compared to the previous year.
Yet another car bomb in Daghestan.
The situation deteriorated even further in 2010. In the first eight months of the year, 37 serious terrorist acts (a 300 percent increase over 2009) and an additional 246 crimes "related to terrorism" were committed in the North Caucasus Federal District, Deputy Prosecutor-General Ivan Sidoruk declared in September. Some 149 law enforcement officers and military personnel died and 384 were wounded in the region, Sidoruk said at a coordination meeting with the heads of regional law enforcement agencies.
Two-thirds of the security-force losses were apparently in Daghestan, a territory the size of Scotland. Daghestani prosecutor Andrei Nazarov admitted in July that losses among service personnel and noncombatants in the first six months of this year were double those recorded in the first half of 2009. According to official reports, 158 people were killed and 186 wounded in the republic in the first six months of the year. The militants' losses in the meantime amounted to only 50.'...And Development, Too'
So far, the Kremlin strategists have not looked too closely into the reasons for this dramatic upsurge in violence, presumably for fear of what they might find out. At a meeting that followed the deadly twin blasts in the Moscow subway on March 29 and in Daghestan on March 31, Medvedev, in his characteristic Putin-lite style, did not even bother to address the root causes of the militancy in the North Caucasus, but set immediately about giving more powers to the security forces. The relatively novel concept of economic and social development came only as an afterthought, a reluctant gesture, no doubt, to bolster his liberal reputation.
"We have five main tasks. Firstly, to strengthen law enforcement and security bodies, the Interior Ministry, the Federal Security Service, and other agencies, and to help the courts. Secondly, we must continue to deliver precision strikes against terrorists and their hideouts. Thirdly, we should help those who decided to break away from the bandits. Fourthly, we should develop the economic and social sphere, educational, cultural and humanitarian programs. And finally, we should strengthen the moral and spiritual component, help religious leaders. Given those five components, we will succeed," the Russian president assured us.
Medvedev's envoy in the North Caucasus, Aleksandr Khloponin, seems to be even more oblivious of the real problems of the region. In his "Strategy For The Socioeconomic Development Of The North Caucasus Federal District To 2025," which the Russian government published on its website earlier this week, Khloponin proposes, among other things, dispatching ethnic Russians to the region and non-Russians from that region to other parts of the Russian Federation.
He looks like a thoroughly decent guy, Khloponin, and is said to be "a good administrator and an efficient manager." Why, then, would he come up with an idea that would not sit comfortably with most Russians, be totally unacceptable to the non-Russians, not solve a single problem, and, moreover, play into the hands of those who fight Russia's rule in the North Caucasus?Terrors Of Life
Khloponin's penchant for 19th-century imperialist policies, his clear pro-Russian and pro-Cossack stance, allied with his spectacular ignorance of the troubles that plague the region, may prove disastrous for the future of the Russian Federation. His strategy only reinforces the common perception that non-Russians are viewed by Moscow as second- or third-class citizens. It is both morally reprehensible and counterproductive.
Years of neglect, discrimination, lack of economic and political opportunities, and the protracted conflict in the region have created a generation of angry young men and women who do not know what to do with themselves or their lives. When they become victims of brutality at the hands of the police and security forces, they have little or no recourse to justice. The Caucasians suffered hardships for centuries, but their participation in the insurgency today is largely accounted for by the perception that their lives are not worth much in present-day Russia.
Young men and women commit horrific acts of violence only when, in the words of Arthur Schopenhauer, "the terrors of life reach the point at which they outweigh the terrors of death." Whatever his real motives are, Khloponin appears to care about his work and his job is, by definition, thankless. He should have started, however, by at least attempting to remove some of those "terrors" from the lives of his compatriots in the North Caucasus.Aslan Doukaev is the director of RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL