By Paul Goble
Russian attitudes about North Caucasians and the situation in the North Caucasus have stabilized or even improved over the last three year, even though there are potentially serious problems ahead; but their feelings toward Muslims in general have become increasingly negative, according to Yana Amelina.
The coordinator of the Caucasus Geopolitical Club says that new Levada Center polls show that Russian attitudes about the situation in the North Caucasus have stabilized or even improved since the run-up to the 2014 Sochi Olympics (kavkazgeoclub.ru/content/kavkaz-v-zerkale-pozitiva).
According to the Russian commentator, such attitudes are in the main justified: the security situation in the region has improved, but one of the major reasons it has in fact is a matter of concern for the future, especially given the increasing hostility of Russians to Muslims as such.
A major reason for the improvement of the situation, she suggests, is that the Russian security services established tight control over the southern Russian border and permitted or even encouraged Islamist radicals to leave the region to fight for their cause in the Middle East. But now the situation has changed from Moscow’s perspective and that may have consequences.
The Russian authorities are certainly not going to allow the return of Islamist militants from Syria and Iraq lest they reignite problems in the North Caucasus. But they are also unlikely to be willing to allow Islamist militants who want to leave the North Caucasus to go to the Middle East where Russia is now a participant in the anti-ISIS effort.
If Islamists in the North Caucasus find their exit to the Middle East blocked, they are likely to try to promote their cause within the Russian Federation via terrorist acts, Amelina says. And they are even more likely to do so if they can mobilize Muslims on the basis of the argument that Russians are increasingly hostile to Islam as such.
And it is clear from new polls that Russian antagonism toward Islam and Muslims as such is growing “at a rapid rate,” the result of government attacks on Islamist groups in the Middle East and the ensuing media coverage. The share of Russians who view Islam and Muslims positively has fallen significantly since 2008, while the portion viewing them negatively has risen.
What is especially worrisome is that there are almost no Russians who do not have a position on this, a pattern that suggests these attitudes may last for a long time, something Amelina suggests Russian officials and the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs must acknowledge and combat.