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North Caucasus: Russia's Headache

By Messenger Staff
Thursday, September 22
The North Caucasus remains a headache for Russia. The Russian political elite of course agrees that the North Caucasus is part of the Russian Federation. Moscow tries to manage to keep the region within its orbit with both carrots and sticks. On September 8, the Russian town Yaroslavl' hosted an international political forum dedicated to innovative Russian ideas. Out of the speeches delivered at this forum, the most scandalous was that of Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s permanent representative to NATO. Instead of discussing NATO –Russian relations, he chose the topic of national problems in Russia and Europe. His view is that of a certain group of Russian nationalists who believe that Russians in Russia are under pressure, and name the North Caucasus as the main reason for the problems in the country.

Rogozin thinks that the Russian population in modern Russia is a discriminated majority. The main reason for this, according to him, is the situation in the North Caucasus. As Rogozin stated 55% of the Russian population wants the region to be separated from Russia, as the entities of the North Caucasus have all the formal features of national republics. The region claims special status and economic benefits, while in return, as Russian nationalists see it, the North Caucasian people band into criminal groupings and commit crimes. According to Rogozin, the solution to this situation is not to allow the North Caucasus to split away but to further impose Russian legal jurisdiction over it.

Rogozin wishes to abolish the special republic status of the national entities in the North Caucasus and transform these entities into ordinary regions, abolishing special programs for financial support and increasing police pressure on the people.

Why does Rogozin think that this will be a successful policy for Moscow? This is an approach that could trigger further antagonism and confrontation between the people of the North Caucasus and the rest of Russia. A political analyst, Sergey Markedonov, challenged Rogozin’s statements highlighting the assumption in the latter's comments that Russia is threatened with disintegration. According to Markedonov, most North Caucasian people actually consider themselves part of the Russian Federation, but this means that they should be treated fairly all around the country. If they are oppressed wherever they are in Russia obviously they will start thinking about separatism.

Despite the logical arguments by Markedonov and other Russian political analysts with a liberal outlook, Rogozin's point of view represents the opinion of quite a solid segment of Russian nationalists. Hardline Russian policy will often be popular. But it is an increasingly dangerous approach since the recognition of the separatist regions of Georgia as independent entities by Russia. This set a dangerous precedent. If a region can be separated from Georgia and recognized, then why not from Russia? The North Caucasus is still in turmoil today, if Rogozin's words are heeded all carrots will be replaced with the harsh stick of the Russian state. If this happens, then the hypocrisy that straddles the Caucasus mountains over the right to self-determination will be clearer as never before.