By Paul Goble
Even Russians who are now talking about the need to let the North Caucasus go are suggesting that the borders of some or all of the existing non-Russian republics need to be changed to protect the ethnic Russian communities who still live there, but few have provided details on what a map of a “post-Russian” North Caucasus might look like.
A Russian blogger has offered just such a map, one that in place of the “complex mosaic” of federation subjects would have two krays (with capitals in Krasnodar and Pyatigorsk) and three independent states, Alaniya, a Confederation of Chechnya and Ingushetia, and a Daghestani Federation (hiker1.livejournal.com/51068.html).
While most Russian commentators say allowing any part of the North Caucasus to become independent would threaten the territorial integrity of the country as a whole, Hiker1 says that ever more ordinary Russians have changed their view on that, largely in response to developments over the past year.
The most important of these in this regard, he continues, was the reaction of the powers that be to the forest fires that swept over much of the country. Most officials in Moscow and elsewhere “demonstrated a complete indifference” to saving the land from the fires, evidence that “our own land is no longer holy and valuable for us.”
And that official indifference to the land was in sharp contrast to the actions of the powers that be with regard to the North Caucasus. There, Hiker1 writes, “the powers that be have stubbornly attempted to keep within Russia some microscopic borderlands that are in revolt by pouring in far more money.”
“The absurdity of a situation” in which some places in the North Caucasus “recall Dubai” as a result of the influx of Russian money but nonetheless continue to fight and to demand special treatment in Russian cities, Hiker1 argues, means that Moscow must take steps, including changing the territorial divisions of that region and granting independence to parts of it.
In his post, Hiker1 provides a map showing how he believes the North Caucasus should be redivided, and then he discusses both the benefits Russia and Russians would reap from such new arrangements and the special provisions Moscow must insist on in the course of making this change to ensure Russia’s security.
Hiker1 suggests that there would be 15 “positive consequences” for Russia from the independence of Daghestan and a combined Chechnya and Ingushetia. First, their independence would cost Russia “only 0.3 percent” of its territory while putting outside “almost all peoples ‘who aren’t being integrated.’” There would be few Russian migrants because there are few Russians left there.
Second, the independence of these republics would lead to “a reduction in Islamophobia and anti-Caucasian attitudes in Russia.” Third, Chechen separatism would shift away from the Islamic projects toward national ones and national ones which would be ever less anti-Russian than those in the past.
Fourth, the removal of these two republics from Russia would force Moscow to be more honest about the country’s ongoing demographic decline. Fifth, by ending the conflicts there, this step would save Russia enormous amounts of budget funds that could be better spent on Russian needs.
Sixth, the independence of these two republics would force Moscow to give preference to the use of the sea route between Astrakhan oblast and Resht in Iran rather than rail lines through Daghestan and Azerbaijan. Seventh, with Chechnya-Ingushetia and Daghestan outside its borders, Russia would find it easier to get a visa-free regime with the European Union.
Eighth, the West would lose a major source of leverage on Russia. Ninth, Russians could turn their attention to more important domestic issues. Tenth, Russia by changing some of the borders of these two state could insure that it would retain most of the oil fields on the left bank of the Terek.
Eleventh, Russia would be able to end the “uncontrolled flow” of economic migrants and refugees from these two countries into Russian cities. Twelfth, “the struggle with ethnic criminal groups” would become easier. Thirteenth, Russia could avoid future conflicts on its own territory by drawing borders so they would be on foreign soil.
Fourteenth, by eliminating from its citizenry people who are not inclined to integrate, Russia would be able to eliminate the propiska system and thereby promote migration. And fifteenth, Russia would not have to face any more of the “Islamic revolts” it has had to deal with in the military in recent years.
With regard to Osetia, Hiker1 says that combining part of North Osetia with South Osetia which is already independent would help Russia deal with “the headache” it has had since the August 2008 war. On the one hand, “Alaniya, surrounded by such neighbors as Ingushetia and Georgia would simply be fated to have allied relations with Russia.”
And on the other, he continues, “the countries of the West” which might object at the beginning “would be [ultimately] forced to recognize the new state,” something they have not done with South Osetia alone. Moreover, Russia would only gain by acquiring “the image of a peacekeeper country and not an aggressor.”
According to Hiker1, the other ethnic groups in the North Caucasus would not be given independence or have their own republics, although he suggests that many of them, including the Armenians, Shapsugs, Cossacks, Kabardins, Circassians, Balkars, Abazas, Karachays, and Nogays should get “national districts” in Kuban and Pyatigorsk krays.
Such arrangements, he continues, would have certain positive features: First, “in a single subject of the Russian Federation are united related peoples, the Circassians and Kabardins and also the Balkars and Karachays,” thus reducing demands for the formation of larger republics of one kind or another.
Second, “the lowering of the status of the territorial unit from republic to districts will be compensated for by the return of elections for the heads of local self-administration.” Third, this arrangement will allow all these peoples “the free development of language and culture within the borders of the district.” And fourth, these arrangements will “reduce the risk of violating the rights of ‘non-titular’ peoples, something which now takes place in all national republics.”
To ensure security for Russia in this new situation, Hiker1 says, Russia would retain four military bases on the territories of the new independent states, secure agreements from the parties not to seek recognition of or compensation for past genocides, and arrange for peaceful exchange of populations in border areas.
Moreover, he says, Moscow should “include all three new states in the Organization of the Collective Security Treaty and include Osetia-Alania in the free trade area. And Russia should send border guards to the new states just as it did in the case of Tajikistan until relatively recently.
Even with all these arrangements, Hiker1 says, there may be problems. There could be some growth in separatist attitudes elsewhere in Russia although he suggests that this threat is less likely than many assume. Moreover, there could be some expanded or unpredictable refugee flows, although there too a carefully considered Russian policy can limit that difficulty.
Finally, he notes, there is the danger of the intensification of the Circassian question, given that there are more than 800,000 Circassians in Russia and more than six million of them living in Turkey and the Middle East. Moscow must ensure that any “return” not undermine the existing ethnic balance.
According to Hiker1, “the idea of ‘Greater Circassia’ probably will remain a marginal one, but this question must not be ignored,” lest inattention create a situation in which demographic changes have the most serious political consequences.
It is not clear just who Hiker1 is, but the detail with which he discusses these issues suggests that he may be part of or at least has close friends in the security agencies where position papers on such issues likely are being prepared in case the powers that be decide to yield to the logic of the position he advances.
Both that logic and the sophistication of his discussion about an issue that is one of the most sensitive in the Russian Federation at the present time mean that they merit attention even if Moscow does not change the map of the North Caucasus or if the North Caucasians ultimately change it in some other way.