Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Caucasus on My Mind

Chechnya is a predominantly Muslim republic within the North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation. The Chechens and Russians have fought two brutal wars since the Soviet Union dissolved in the end of 1991. These wars like virtually other wars in human history have generated no winners only decades of misery for Russians and Chechens alike. Thousands of people have died or disappeared in the fog war, there have been allegations of human rights abuses from both sides. Chechens separatists have also perpetrated several of the worst attacks on Russian soil in the countries history in Beslan and the Dubrovka Theatre attack in Moscow in 2003. The Kremlin has responded to these attacks and continued insurgency throughout the North Caucasus by seeking to place Kremlin friendly strongman as presidents of troublesome republics. This approach appears to be having some effect in Chechnya while Ingushetia and Dagestan continue to report weekly attacks on so called soft targets throughout the country, most violently several train bombings on the Moscow subway system.

The Kremlin embodied by President Medvedev and started under current Prime Minister Putin’s presidency has largely shrugged off the voices of human rights advocates who insist that Kremlin backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov is a tyrant who is having political opponents and civilians murdered. Chechnya has become quieter under Moscow and Kadyrov’s hand, but how sustainable is this “strongman policy”? If there was an attack tomorrow, god forbid, and Kadyrov dies, what happens to Chechnya then? Is there another leader there, who is strong enough to maintain the relative calm that exists currently or will we have a weak, ineffectual leader propped up by Russia’s large military presence? Most reports I’ve read on the matter act like Kadyrov backed by ruthless security forces maintain absolutist control, so any change in leadership could mean a disaster for Chechnya and the Russian Federation at large.

The Kremlin brain trust of Putin and Medvedev may downplay human rights concerns because they are trying to beat back a ruthless insurgency that wants to instill fear in the heart of Moscow. However, if even a fraction of the allegations against Mr. Kadyrov have even a shard of basis in fact, this strongman policy may prove a bigger bust then a success by creating a new generation of Chechens who are all too willing to take the fight to Moscow and beyond. This ignores the other republics of concern Dagestan and Ingushetia, where attempts to institute a strongman have so far failed to stem the violent tides. I do not have the answer for President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin on how to deal with the North Caucasus , I wish I did. I want my Russian friends to be safe. I just don’t believe using strongman like Kadyrov is a good long term answer. I think the long term answer is to build up the North Caucasus as a region through economic development and structural improvements, while instituting programs that respect both the Orthodox and Muslim faiths.

I’m not spitting out anything new. Gordon M. Hahn wrote a great book on the subject entitled Russia’s Islamic Threat, which outlines the problem in much more detail then I ever could, with some interesting policy recommendations.

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