ISSN 2330-717X

Fate of Russia Hinges on Return of Ethnic Russians to North Caucasus, Commentator Says


Neither more force nor more money will improve the situation of the North Caucasus, according to one Moscow commentator. Only the return of ethnic Russians and other “non-titular nationalities” to that region will have that effect and also reverse today’s pattern when the North Caucasus is coming to major Russian cities.


In an essay posted on the portal, Yaroslav Butakov argues that Moscow can improve the situation in the North Caucasus as a whole only by taking the North Caucasus under control and sending more ethnic Russians there rather than trying to erect a Chinese-style “Great Wall” to separate themselves from that unsettled region.

Not only would allowing that region to go its own way create a base for forces hostile to Russia, but as recent experience has shown, “a state border is not an obstacle for mass migration if the latter is generated by objective social and economic causes.” Consequently, Butakov says, “the future of the Caucasus and of all Russia is in the return of Russians to the Caucasus.”

Neither force nor money will be enough, he argues. Russian forces have been fighting for the last two decades, and Moscow is currently spending “six times more money from the federal budget” per resident of the North Caucasus than it is for residents of other regions (

And as Russians already know, Butakov says, “if Moscow leaves the Caucasus, the Caucasus will come to Moscow. [Indeed,] it has already arrived” — in the form of often unwelcome gastarbeiters.

Given all this, he continues, it is far from surprising that many in Russia are concluding that it is long past time to end subsidies to people who are only threatening Russia with more explosions – and especially to stop sending people in that region more money than other law-abiding citizens of the Russian Federation are receiving.


But the solution is the creation of conditions for the return of ethnic Russians to that region, a group whose flight has been driven both by the nationalist and religious movements there and also by the impoverishment of the region, the latter phenomenon, Butakov argues, is “a direct result” of the ethno-nationalism of the titular peoples that has been cultivated for decades.”

Since the 1970s, in fact, the number of ethnic Russians in that region has declined both absolutely and relatively and their flight has been paralleled, as few notice, by the flight of “other ‘non-titular’ peoples” from the region, many of whom are just as autochthonian as the titular nations.

During almost the entire Soviet period, Butakov points out, “the sadly well-known ‘rooting’ of the state apparatus” continued, a policy which “ignored not only the principle of national equality but also the scientific truth that indigenous peoples do not exist anywhere on earth.”

After the Russian Federation emerged from the ruins of the USSR, this process of elevating the “titular” nationalities and the driving out of the “non-titular ones intensified,” Butakov observes, as a result of which the number of ethnic Russians in the North Caucasus fell by 86 percent after 1991.

The exodus of ethnic Russians has even disturbed some republic leaders, because among those leaving were “not a few of the scientific-technic intelligentsia and specialists with higher education in various spheres of activity.” But if the local leaders were concerned, they generally failed to take the necessary steps to reverse this trend.

Consequently, Moscow must take the lead and finance primarily those programs in the region which will result in the return of ethnic Russians to the North Caucasus, the only basis for improving the situation, Butakov observes, because in his words, “the future of the Caucasus and of all Russia [depends] on the return of Russians to the Caucasus.”

The Moscow commentator says that he is not talking about the return of exactly the same Russians who have left over the last 30 years. “The majority of them do not want to return.” Instead, what is needed is a restoration of the Soviet-era program “when thousands of Russian speciualists went ‘to raise the cultural level of the national borderlands.’”

To underscore how important such a program would be, Butakov argues that the current situation in the North Caucasus “very much recalls the time just before the disintegration of the USSR [because] no republic of the former Union, nor even all of them taken together could have buried a great union power if the Russian Federation did not want this.”

“Now,” he says, “a similar collapse threatens to be repeated already within the Russian Federation.” And he asks whether Russians will learn from “the sad experience of 1989-1991” or repeat it with even more tragic consequences for the future of the country and all its residents – Russians and non-Russians alike.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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